Caring Pepper robot hits the market, sells out in a minute

Humanoid robot Pepper has started selling on the Japanese market -- and its first limited run sold out within a minute.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

This is Pepper, the emotional robot. Aldebaran SAS

The adorable Pepper robot unveiled a year ago by Japan-based mobile and telecommunications company SoftBank has finally been made available to consumers, and it's been a roaring success.

According to CIO, the robot was launched on to the market at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 20. Within a minute, all 1,000 robots in the first wave had been snapped up by customers, going for 198,000 yen (around $1,610) apiece.

Pepper aims to act as a household companion. It is programmed to communicate with users, follow vocal commands, and, in what SoftBank claims is a first, read human emotions and react accordingly. Pepper is not built for physical tasks. The robot's role is more emotional.

"This robot has been created to make people happy to interact with. He's an emotional robot, not a functional robot for domestic use with dish-washer or vacuum-cleaner functionalities," reads the Pepper FAQ on the website of SoftBank's partner, French robotics company Aldebaran SAS.

"Pepper will help people grow, enhance their life, facilitate relationships, he will have fun with them, give some services and connect them with the outside world."

The robot will even develop a personality of its own, based on how humans interact with it. It will be happy when it is given attention, and irritable when it is not.

And, if it looks to you a little like manga character Astro Boy, that's not an accident: SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son was inspired by the cartoon character he remembered from his childhood.

Pepper comes equipped with a tablet to show its emotions, and will also require a data package for its cloud-based data and insurance fees, coming in at 24,600 yen ($200) a month. Even so, SoftBank expects to be selling Pepper at a loss for four years at the very least. Aldabaran's NAO, which has a similar purpose, sells for around $9,500.

SoftBank plans to stagger the release of the robots, producing 1,000 units a month, with a global release in partnership with Foxconn Technology Group and Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba. Meanwhile, the next round of 1,000 Pepper robots is being planned for launch in Japan sometime in July.