Pepper Reaches End Of The Line
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 07 July 2021

Softbank Robotics has "paused" production of its Pepper line of  "meet and greet" humanoid robots and is cutting jobs throughout its robotics business.

According to Reuters and based on several anonymous sources, production of Pepper robots ceased at the end of last year and, given it would be costly to restart production, this is unlikely ever to happen.

Built by Foxconn in China around 27,000 Pepper robots were produced and Softbank Robotics, which continues to sell them claims that:

Over 2,000 companies around the world have adopted Pepper as an assistant to welcome, inform and guide visitors in an innovative way. 

After buoyant initial demand in Japan, where, as we reported back in 2015, the initial batch of 1,000 Peppers sold out in under a minute, the numbers sold fell well below expectation. Partly this could be attributable to cost. Even though Pepper was sold well below its build cost, its price tag of ¥198,000 represents just the initial outlay. and the accumulated cost over 3-years, including insurance and a plan for cloud services, is  ¥965,000. Currency changes have also made the cost of a Pepper increase over time. In 2015 when sales were restricted to Japan, ¥198,000 was equivalent to $1,600 but when it became available in the United States this had risen to $1,850, and now stands at around $1800.

Apart from having a high price tag, Pepper has a very limited role. The original concept, from French creator's Aldebaran placed emphasis on the robot's ability to respond to human emotions, with the potential for use as a home companion. However Softbank placed greater emphasis on its navigational capabilities enabling it to lead people through unfamiliar environments. Recently it also acquired a new Covid-related skill of being able to detect face masks and provide relevant advice. 

According to French media outlet Le Journal du Net, Softbank Robotics Europe lost $38 million in its fiscal 2019-2020 year and more than $119 million over the last three years. It is therefore hardly surprising that SoftBank now plans to eliminate about half of its 330 staff positions in France. Staff numbers have already been halved in the smaller sales operations in the United States and Britain according to Reuter's  sources and employees in Japan have redeployed away from the robotics business.

ppepper nao whiz

Softbank Robotics isn't shutting up shop, however. Nao and Pepper are both still on sale and have been joined by Whiz its AI-enabled vacuum-cleaning robot designed for use in hotels, hospitals, airports and similar "large" venues.

It is Whiz that  is experiencing commercial success. A year ago Softbank Robotics reported sales of 10,000 units as of the end of June 2020:

With availability in five countries and regions, Whiz has cleaned floorspaces equivalent to over 335,000 km, or approximately 8.5 laps around the world. Whiz has also captured a 55% market share of the autonomous professional cleaning robot market, and now ranks No. 1 globally for cumulative sales of autonomous professional cleaning robots.

Softbank is also branching out into automated storage and retrieval systems having paid $2.8 billion for a 40% share of AutoStore which has 20,000 robots across 35 countries.

It seems that we value robots more when they do real work, like box shifting and floor cleaning. Pepper, despite its novelty value, has shown that its simply not enough to be able to greet customers and show them where to go.

pepper bank




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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 July 2021 )