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Japanese telecom giant SoftBank has announced that its emotionally intelligent robot, “Pepper,” will be making its mark in the enterprise with pre-orders opening from October 1.

First launched for consumers in Japan last month, the $9,000 bot can analyze gestures, voice tones, and expressions — all powered by a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) system. However, SoftBank also says that Pepper can actually generate emotions autonomously, through processing data from its on-board cameras, sensors, and accelerometer.

Similar to the consumer model, “Pepper for Biz” will be available through a monthly subscription, though businesses will rent the robot rather than buy it outright.

SoftBank is only offering “Pepper for Biz” on a 36-month rental plan, amounting to roughly $442 a month or $16,000 for the full three years. The robot is then returned to SoftBank once the contract has expired.

Pepper will come with a set of pre-installed apps designed for use in the enterprise. And they’re customizable, too, meaning brands can include their own product names, images, and questions aimed at visitors or passers-by.

Pepper can call out to people in the distance, ask opinions, present a product’s benefits (including images), and even play games. It will also be able to analyze the characteristics and emotions of people it interacts with, which SoftBank says can be used for future marketing purposes.

With Pepper, companies can effectively buy their own team of customer service robots.

As with the consumer product, Pepper for Biz will only be available in Japan for now — but following a $236 million investment from Alibaba and Foxconn last month, SoftBank’s robotics division has plenty of cash in reserves for a broader rollout.

Indeed, SoftBank has previously said that it’s working on “a structure to bring Pepper and other robotics businesses to global markets.”

It seems Robots are increasingly shedding their science fiction roots and entering the public realm. Indeed, Google has been ramping up its robotics investments, and is working to bring driverless cars to our roads.

Other startups, too, are working on bringing robots to the real world. Jibo recently closed a $25 million funding round for a personal robot that’s like a cross between a tablet and a puppy.


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