Pictured above are three Pepper robot units, made by Softbank. Using advanced conversational A.I., Pepper is made to be just as much a companion as it is a servant, allowing it to do things like work at a phone store. Unfortunately, the latter half of that is falling a bit flat due to poor developer support. Pepper’s custom ecosystem, something that CEO Masayoshi Son has wanted in a product for some time, is partly to blame. The unit costs $1,800 and even at that price point, Softbank takes a loss. Billing Pepper as a software platform, its original purpose was to make it into the homes of people everywhere and make their lives easier through its A.I. while simultaneously scoring SoftBank commissions and ad revenue. With developers failing to jump on board, the poor bot is left to be little more than a literal conversation piece.
The key to Pepper, however, is the tablet on his chest. This is where apps run, which the robot, having his own OS for his A.I. systems, called Naoqi, can pull data from to act upon aside from interactions with humans. Due to flagging developer engagement, SoftBank has announced that they will allow the tablet to be flashed over to Google’s Android OS in the near future. SoftBank did not disclose what sort of deal, if any, they had reached with Google to get Android on the tablet, or whether the tablet will include Google Play functionality. App sales on Google Play entail Google getting a cut of the revenue, but Google Play is the most popular ecosystem for Android, making the decision a bit of a catch 22 for SoftBank.
Regardless of whether Google Play functionality will be on board, opening its “heart” to Android, so to speak, also opens Pepper up to an insane number of apps and services, along with APIs that could allow those apps and services to integrate with Pepper’s OS and A.I. Managed properly, this transition could take Pepper from being an unprofitable pet project to a product with real value to the average consumer, thus having real commercial appeal. No date has been announced for the change to happen at this time, or whether Pepper owners will have the option to keep the tablet on its original operating system.