Developers urged to concoct apps to tap SoftBank robot’s potential


Staff Writer

SoftBank Corp. held a developers’ conference for its humanoid robot Pepper on Saturday and encouraged engineers to create related apps.

“The robot has a promising future,” Fumihide Tomizawa, chief of SoftBank Robotics, told developers at the event in Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

Citing a global technological revolution encompassing everything from computers and the Internet to broadband and smartphones, Tomizawa said SoftBank considers robotics the next area in line for major innovation.

In the future it will be normal to have robots roaming manufacturing factories, offices and homes, Tomizawa said, noting that government estimates show the value of the domestic robotics market swelling to ¥10 trillion in 20 years.

Pepper is scheduled to go on sale in Japan in February for ¥198,000 per unit. Softbank Robotics, a unit of the telecoms giant, said it will launch its app store the same month.

Any developer will be free to make apps for Pepper and submit them to the store for evaluation. SoftBank also said Saturday that it will sell 200 Pepper units to developers in advance.

Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of Aldebaran Robotics, a France-based robot developer that is part of the SoftBank group that created Pepper, encouraged engineers to take advantage of new opportunities.

“It’s a beginning of a new industry where designing and creating applications for robots will be a huge business,” Maisonnier said.

Tomizawa said that although Japanese firms lag their foreign rivals in other high-tech markets, securing leadership in robotics is a must.

“Robots are Japan’s specialty. Japan must not lose,” he said.

Several firms showcased their Pepper offerings at the confab.

Tokyo-based Sofnec Co., for instance, showed that the robot can pick up, move and place colored blocks according to verbal orders. Another Tokyo firm, Party Inc., had Pepper sketch visitors on a tablet attached to its upper body.