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Originally published September 7 2014

Humanoid robots to arrive on store shelves next year

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) The advance of robotics in recent years has been incredible and is now about to enter a new era, according to reports. Indeed, "humanoid" types of robots are expected to hit American retailers sometime next year.

Bloomberg News reports that billionaire Masayoshi Son will begin selling a kind of humanoid robot named "Pepper" by summer 2015 at Sprint Corp. stories in the United States, which is part of a push by SoftBank Corp. to move the technology beyond the factory.

In addition, SoftBank says it has received nearly 400 inquiries about its humanoid robot from companies in finance, food service and education, said Fumihide Tomizawa, chief executive officer of SoftBank Robotics, in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The 1.2-meter (4-foot) robot "dances, makes jokes and estimates human emotions based on expressions," the news service reported.

Pepper will be on sale in Japan in February for about $1,900; the company has yet to set a price for it in the U.S.

'We want to build a society that coexists with robots'

Last year, SoftBank paid $22 billion for control of Sprint; now, the company has begun to invest in robotics as Japan looks to double the value of its current domestic production to 2.41 trillion yen ($22.9 billion) by 2020. The company has developed an operating system that can control robots much the same as Google's Android software can run a smartphone. Its platform is able to be customized so it can be used in a range of industries including construction, healthcare and entertainment.

"We will sell Pepper in the United States within a year after gathering information in Japan," Tomizawa told Bloomberg News. "I won't be surprised if Pepper sales will be half to business and half to consumers."

In July, SoftBank Robotics was launched as a subsidiary to direct the company's business and begin selling Pepper; the robot comes equipped with a laser sensor and a battery that can last up to 12 hours. As further reported by Bloomberg News:

The robot was initially targeted at families and the elderly before getting attention for business use since its June unveiling.

Tomizawa declined to specify the company's sales targets for robotics. SoftBank expects to generate revenue through applications and original content as customers personalize their robots.

"The basic premise is to produce profit," Tomizawa said. "Son is aggressively involved in the project and we report to him one or two times a month."

In 2010, Son described his vision for the future: Create a society where humans coexist with intelligent robots. He has also said that Pepper is a result of time he has spent watching the television show Astro Boy, a cartoon series in the 1960s based on a character who could not experience emotions.

In July, Son said he believes that he can improve labor productivity by replacing 90 million jobs with one-third as many robots. "We could enter the robot business for industrial use in the mid or long term," Tomizawa explained.

China ramping up production too

SoftBank's robot development coincides with robotics companies acquired recently by Google, including Schaft Inc., a Tokyo-based company that manufactures two-legged humanoid robots. Other robot firms include Honda Motor Co., which has developed a robot that plays soccer, and Panasonic Corp.

Meanwhile, in neighboring China, robotics production is ramping up as well. According to China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, the country's first industrial robot line should begin operation this month in the northeastern city of Shenyang, officials said.

The Saisun Robot and Automation Co. Ltd. "will be the first to jump start China's industrial robot production with an annual capacity of 5,000," the news agency reported.

In 2013, China became the world's largest industrial robot market, with 37,000 units sold. That was 20 percent of the global market.


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