Businesses can rent a robot for customer care

Robot that can read emotions will be focused on the enterprise.

Tim Hornyak

Wish a robot could greet your customers at the door, guide guests to the correct meeting rooms or even bring someone a cup of coffee?

Well, businesses in Japan might be testing this out in just a few months.

SoftBank Robotics Corp., which made a splash this past June when it sold 1,000 robots in one minute, is making an enterprise-level version of its personal robot available in Japan for pre-orders this October.

Dubbed Pepper for Biz, the business-focused robot is designed to come loaded with applications that allow it to handle office reception tasks and even approach potential customers. It also has what the company is calling a Pepper for Biz platform that should let users customize applications and visualize data. One, for instance, is being geared at helping the robot be a salesperson; it starts work as a sales clerk next year at Yamada Denki, a major electronics retailer.

The robot, now being pitched for more general customer-service work, will be available for rental at a monthly cost of 55,000 yen or about $443 U.S. dollars.

The rental plan is a binding contract for three years.

The company's initial personal robot, simply called Pepper, sold for $1,600. Customers also agreed to pay a $120/month cloud connection fee and $80/month for insurance.

That initial robot received a lot of headlines and attention around the world because SoftBank reported that Pepper can not only read human emotions but will generate its own emotions also.

The robot, for example, reportedly can read people's facial cues and will be happy to be with people it is familiar with and afraid when the lights go out.

The robot might sigh when sad or bored, and it will display different colors on a display screen depending on its mood.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Pepper for Biz could be a good starting point for businesses interested in using robotics .

"These robots do very simple chores. They do presentations, meet and greet customers and ask and answer questions," he added. "Robots are already in companies in manufacturing roles. These kinds of robots are used in softer environments. I think it's a good idea. These robots are just the beginning."

Robots in the not-so-distant future could be used in companies to do bigger jobs, like clean, deliver mail and refill printer ink and paper in office copy machines.

That kind of robotics work could just be five years away, according to Moorhead.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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