We should not mourn the passing of the robot Pepper


A few years ago, we let the robot Pepper visit as a short-term guest. Once you overcome the playful but power-hungry glow of its eyes, this $1,800 “emotional reading” robot is a good entertainer: hovering between Duplo and Netflix, it has the ability to attract two in an afternoon Children under six years old.

But Pepper, once you look over The novelty of its behavior, Is basically a hawker: a shiny oversold with its limited merchandise. And it’s not just any old salesman.Robot, as The precious creation of SoftBank The embodiment of the great vision of the company’s founder and futurist Masayoshi Son is the hawker’s hawker.

On its mechanized shoulders, it carries the exciting promise of mass market and home artificial intelligence humanoid robots. More broadly, Sun Zhengyi’s views on consumer-oriented home robots and his views on broadband and smartphones that support SoftBank’s wealth It is as correct as the chip’s view. This is why the fate of this little automaton and the rotation around it now is so fascinating.

Last week, SoftBank confirmed Reuters report Last summer, it not only stopped Pepper production indefinitely, but was also restructuring the Paris center of its robotics business-since SoftBank acquired the French company Aldebaran Robotics in 2012, this department has been critical to Pepper’s development. Those who watched Pepper staggering into human society most carefully will not be shocked by this news.

Since its launch seven years ago, Pepper has largely failed to deliver on its promises. It didn’t shame itself, and it could always inspire the next generation of robotics engineers somewhere along the journey. But its job as an automation ambassador has always been mediocre, its functions are limited, and the idea of ​​letting this expensive puppet find a natural and meaningful place in a private house seems increasingly far-fetched.

At least 27,000 Peppers have been produced (SoftBank claims this number is higher, but will not specify), many of which remain in SoftBank’s mobile phone store and watch customers ignore them. Others have been called up to greet and chat in airports, museums and other places.Dozens of people were forced to use Audience in the pandemic era Sports events; now you can see many people in the deepest part of the Tokyo store, they lower their heads and unplug the power cord resolutely. It has clearly surpassed its unnatural life.

But wait, SoftBank strongly protested: Don’t obliterate this particular humanoid robot or our broader commitment to the vision of domestic robots. Nothing has changed. A spokesperson said that the Pepper plant may have been temporarily suspended, but will resume after inventory is cleared and demand resumes.

The key question here is not when the market will scream for more Pepper again—because it almost certainly won’t—but why SoftBank is so reluctant to announce that Pepper is dead and introduce us to its successor. In maintaining support for Pepper, SoftBank seems to lack one of the most important features of humanoid robots: at least for now, they should fail.

Every robot trade activity clearly depicts the important distinctions between serious robots for factory automation, military or medical purposes, and (usually humanoid) waiters, pancake fins, and shirt clips. The former is ready to transform your factory, logistics center, nursing home or battlefield today. The latter sells the future with the concept of innocent slavery, unconditional company, and most importantly, ambition. The first group was amazed at what it could do; the second asked for forgiveness for what it could not do, but flashed and said: “I will be worthy one day, Master.”

The only way for this second group to maintain its appeal is to have a huge, growing garbage dump-Pepper now belongs to this place, not because it is bad, but because there should be a better robot to replace it. s position.As Pepper is not dead, the problem with SoftBank is that although Sun Zhengyi has a lot of room for error in many of his technology investments, there are still championWhen it comes to the established vision of the future in which Pepper lives, he is more vulnerable to criticism.

If SoftBank’s problem is that it has not actually invested in Pepper’s successor (this is also in line with the company’s Substantial reduction In the robotics group (Boston Dynamics), then we should look forward to explaining why domestic humanoid robots are not in our future. If so, it is time to show the heir to the world. Either way, SoftBank should not mourn the death of this particular salesperson.

leo.lewis@ft.com



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