Pepper the humanoid robot debuts in France

Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank is testing its Pepper robot in France after four months of sell-outs in its homeland.

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Daniel Van Boom
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It looks like Softbank is broadening humanoid robot Pepper's horizons, on Tuesday announcing that the companion robot will be venturing outside of the Japan for the first time.

The Japanese telecommunications company has set up several Pepper units throughout a Carrefour hypermarket in France's Claye-Souilly region. The robots will be playing games and dancing with patrons, and will also have a photobooth service available, where customers can take a snap with Pepper and have it printed out.

"It is the first time we are getting Pepper out of Japan, so we will see the reaction of users in France," said Magali Cubier of Aldebaran, the subsidiary of Softbank that manufacturers the Pepper units. "The main focus is to entertain people and to test how they react to seeing a robot in a shop."

The device was first revealed by Softbank in June 2014. On June 20 of this year, just over a year later, Pepper hit the market. Selling for 198,000 yen ($1,650, AU$2,280 or £1,070), the first 1,000 units were all sold within a minute. July, August and September each saw the release of another 1,000 Peppers, and in each case Softbank was again sold out within a minute.

Cubier was speaking at the WSJDLive conference in California, where Pepper units were on hand. He added that the event was a potential first step in expanding the product into the US market.

Unlike many robotic gadgets, Pepper is designed to be a companion rather than a servant. It's programmed to communicate with users, follow vocal commands and, in what SoftBank claims is a first, read human emotions and react accordingly.