Usually consumer gadgets that sell out in a minute carry a certain fruit logo but Japanese tech giant Softbank has a new type of hit product on its hands: Human-like robots.
SoftBank’s newly launched Pepper robot is proving to be an iPhone-like hit as the former mobile carrier said 1,000 units of the household robot sold out in one minute on Saturday.
The humanoid machine is a personal robot and is designed to become a member of the family. While it can’t do housework, it can converse, recognize emotions, develop its own “feelings” and pull information from the Internet such as emails and weather forecasts.
SoftBank describes Pepper as the world’s first personal robot to have its own emotions.
While nearly all of the Peppers were purchased online Saturday, 30 were made available by a lottery process on Friday at a SoftBank store in Tokyo.
A SoftBank spokesman did not provide information as to the identity of the initial buyers but did confirm that the company plans to make more Peppers available in July.
The robots were designed by Softbank-owned Aldebaran Robotics of France and feature has a wide array of sensors and a cloud-based artificial intelligence system.
At $1,600 it’s still a major purchase but cheap compared to other robots of comparable sophistication. There is also a small monthly fee for mobile data usage and insurance.
Pepper’s strong first day may put big tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon on notice as a global rollout of Pepper will start next year by SoftBank.
Interestingly Pepper is manufactured by Apple's number one iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn Technology Group, in partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. The three companies are working on business applications for Pepper starting this fall.
Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, said Thursday that the partners are willing to sell Pepper at a loss for at least four years, but he sees the business as a major contributor to SoftBank’s revenue in 20 or 30 years. Partners Terry Gou of Foxconn and Jack Ma of Alibaba all envision robots becoming as important as automobiles and consumer electronics in the coming decades.
Surely in California, Google, Apple, Facebook, Tesla and others are taking note of the development and watching closely.