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SoftBank's Pepper proves robots really do care about us

The company on Thursday unveils a new "humanoid" robot named Pepper that can not only communicate with the user, but also read his or her emotions.


SoftBank, the Japan-based mobile and telecommunications company that owns a major stake in Sprint, is also getting into the robotics game in a big way.

The company on Thursday unveiled Pepper, a "humanoid" robot that has the capability to communicate with users, as well as detect voice commands and understand emotions. SoftBank and its partner, Aldebaran Robotics SAS, say that Pepper is the first robot in the world to read emotions.

SoftBank might not seem like an obvious robotics-focused company, but the company said in 2010 that it was exploring ways it could break into that space, believing that it offered significant growth potential. SoftBank holds a nearly 80 percent equity stake in Aldebaran, which led to the companies' partnership on Pepper.

Robotics has quickly become an important component in the strategic plans of many technology companies. Google has arguably moved ahead with it at the most rapid pace, acquiring a rash of robotics companies over the last several months. Google has yet to fully unveil its plans for robotics, but the company has indicated that its efforts could enhance robotics in manufacturing and in other markets.

For its part, Pepper is designed with single goal in mind: become a household companion for owners. The robot will be capable of judging situations and adapting rationally, as well recognize human tones and expressions to see how someone feels. SoftBank says the robot, which will reach about four feet in height, will come with 12 hours of battery life and a full 10.1-inch display on its chest for additional features.

Starting later this year, Aldebaran will launch a software development kit for developers who might want to make apps for the robot.

Pepper is slated to hit store shelves in Japan in February. It'll be available for a starting price of 198,000 yen ($1,930).