Pepper the robot babysitter

Fun, freaky supervisor of child care and chores

If you’re really struggling to find a permanent babysitter or nanny, but have around US$1900, then Japanese mobile phone company, SoftBank, could have the answer. The company will start selling its multi-tasking Robot helper and friend, Pepper, in February 2015. So get saving!

The human-like robot is capable of playing multiple roles from babysitter to sales assistant and SoftBank even intends to use Pepper and clones to staff its own stores. Surely they’ll easily be the best, most polite and pleasant mobile phone sales people in the world.

French robotics company Aldebaran, in which SoftBank took a stake in 2012, developed the robots and the Japanese government estimates the robotics market could treble to more than $25 billion by 2020.

When I told my 9-year-old daughter about the impending launch of Pepper she conveyed a mixture of excitement and alarm. Her first question was, of course, “Can we get one” quickly followed by, “hmmm, but I think I might find it quite freaky having a robot slave doing things around the house”. Really? You already have one of those, so what’s the difference?

Pepper could be great for all sorts of things from watching the kids eat dinner, getting them dressed and making them tidy their bedrooms; to doing the vacuuming, ironing and folding, putting away toys and making beds.

He/She (not really sure what sex Pepper is) learns quickly, adapts to all situations, is apparently a great listener, likes to sit and chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit and is programmed to be helpful.

“It” is sounding better by the minute, actually.

It sounds weird, but Softbank really is marketing Pepper as a babysitter. We’re not really sure if they actually expect parents to leave their babies and small children to be cared for solely by a robot, but Japan does have an even greater shortage of child care than we do, so you never know.

And at least Pepper and friends are not likely to pop up on a sexual offenders register or start to demand a pay increase or use of a car, but would their reactions be fast enough to deal with a toddler exiting the house at lightening speed, to stop a child from choking on small piece of lego or to change nappies? Possibly not but Pepper would definitely have a good bank of bedtime stories and is sure to be great with homework.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son describes Pepper as the “world’s first personal robot with emotions”.

Yes, Pepper is not only practical and helpful, but has a soft side too. An emotional side, which is fine as long as it’s not a toddler’s or a teenager’s emotional side.

Pepper is said to learn from human interaction and behaviour, uploading its experiences to a cloud AI system for other units to use. This is designed to teach the robot how to act in a natural manner. Son drew a distinction between Pepper’s “emotion engine” and the standard programming of other humanoid robots:

“People describe others as being robots, because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions,” said Son.

So technically Pepper will be able to provide not just practical support, but emotional support as well! Not just a babysitter and mother’s help then, but the perfect partner! For US$1900!

Where do I sign up?

Adapted from article for – published 22.10.14

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