Contest for humanoid robot Pepper won by team with app to help dementia patients


Staff Writer

With its commercial launch for developers set for Friday, creators on Sunday competed in the first app contest for SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper with a variety of applications, ranging from ones offering games, asking quizzes and even monitoring and helping dementia patients in their everyday lives.

Pepper, developed by telecom operator SoftBank, is a 121-cm-tall robot equipped with artificial intelligence and connectivity to the Internet. It can recognize human voices and carry on simple conversations with humans, and it can read body language and facial expressions with its video camera eyes.

The Project Team Dementia was named winner among about 100 applicants in the application software contest, which was held in Tokyo.

With the team’s software, Pepper can carry on simple conversations with dementia patients, urge them to wake up and take their medicine at a scheduled time and even report how many pills were consumed to a doctor in a far-away office via the Internet.

Pepper can also notify the patient when an email arrives, and ask questions such as how old their grandchildren are to see if they remember family-related information correctly.

“I’m really surprised and now I feel it’s quite significant that a set of apps with a concept like this won the world’s first app contest” for Pepper, said Hideki Yoshimura, who heads the team that was awarded the ¥1 million prize.

Yoshimura explained that the number of people with dementia has been increasing and it is becoming a serious social issue.

“This year is said to become the first year of the robot revolution and we think that dementia will be an important field (to concentrate on),” Yoshimura said.

SoftBank plans to begin selling the first of 300 units of Pepper to app developers from Friday. The price for the robot itself is ¥198,000, while users will need to pay monthly ¥14,800 to use Internet services for the robot. There is an additional charge of ¥9,800 for insurance, which is optional.

SoftBank originally planned to start selling the talking robot to general consumers this month but postponed it until sometime in the summer.

Until it goes on sale, app developers will be encouraged to create application software so that more apps will be available by the time Pepper is available to the general public.

Another entrant in the contest, Team SabiDon, came up with a music quiz app, which enables Pepper to ask someone their age and gender so that they can select songs that might be familiar to them from an on-line music database.

Then, Pepper will play a song and have people guess the name of it.

When the person is ready to answer, they touch either Pepper’s right or left hand and Pepper listens to their answer — and tells them whether it is right or wrong.