Aldebaran is well known for the 57cm Nao humanoid and its 1m40 Romeo sibling.
Nao is cute but personal robotics is still in its prehistory.
It comes with an easy to use graphical programmation environment, Choregraphe, that makes it attractive for the education sector and the first programmers tempted to try writing apps for an humanoid platform.
But the cheapest version of Nao still stands above 5000 EUR. That won’t make it a consumer hit anytime soon.
The situation is worse with larger robots: Romeo is still unfinished but comparable projects, such as Asimo, currently cost at least 5 figure up to a million a piece. Worse, the built-in software and apps are still far from ready for the average consumer. Useful apps are emerging but most platforms lack a coherent background framework to make the robots respond logically when they are in a non-scripted situation.
This is precisely the kind of feature that Aldebaran is implementing piece by piece but without a larger audience, beyond academics, the development of these foundations was taking too much time to keep mainstream potential buyers interested. What they did with Pepper goes way beyond what was though possible right now and they achieved it by compromising on one point: the use of a multidirectional wheel instead of legs. Bipedal robots being often unstable in ordinary conditions this could even be an advantage.
The list of features is impressive:
- less than $2000 (!) announced but an actual rough price of €20000 as of 2017
- 1m20 tall, by far the largest robot to be made available to consumers
- 14kg, pretty stable
- self-charging, 12 hour battery life
- programmable via its own version of Choregraphe. An app store shouldn’t be very far.
- 2 fluid arms with 5 fingers hands
- 3D camera
- speech recognition and synthesis
- access dedicated web services
- will connect to your online data if used as an assistant
Even better, being financed by SoftBank and constructed by Foxconn means that the production chain is complete and ready to run. A rare occurence in robotics. At that price, Pepper undercuts by $500 Double Robotics’ mini Segway plus broomstick telepresence robot that it can replace. It’s nearly 35x cheaper than iRobot’s Ava telepresence offering which is using a similar-looking multidirectional wheel base. Its core OS will need to evolve to make it behave more and more naturally with humans. But it could already crush these less sophisticated telepresence robots and justify its cost easily, making the more advanced/ bleeding edge side of the platform acceptable as a bonus. And that opens up the possibility of a large user base paying for its main function while finally providing an affordable testbed to developers, opening up the future.
The possibilities are endless:
- as an in-shop show piece/kiosk, exactly what SoftBank does
- as a roboticsdevelopment platform
- as a relay or hub for home automation
- as an interactive security camera
- as an “real” video gaming platform
Pepper will be available in February 2015 in Japan. Plans for other countries have not yet been communicated. Photo credits: aldebaran.com