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Say hello to Pepper.

The world’s first emotionally intelligent robot went on sale in Japan on the 20 June. One thousand Pepper units were available and they sold out in 1 minute. That’s right, 1000 robots gone in 60 seconds.

Built by Aldebaran, a French robotics company, Pepper is designed to live and interact with humans. He’s not supposed to be a housekeeper, he’s supposed to keep you company.

Pepper is 4-feet tall and has a screen on his chest helping you interact with him. He has more than 20 motors in his construction and highly articulated arms. He performs actions such as heaving his shoulders when in standby mode, essentially imitating sleep.

Priced at US$1600, he’s considered quite affordable for cutting-edge technology. When you think about it, a new Macbook Pro costs a lot more. There are additional plans required for data and insurance fees that push the price up a bit. Pepper is lithium battery-operated and can last 12-14 hours before needing to be charged.

As his owner, you talk to him like you would any other human. Pepper learns your behaviour and how you respond to situations and circumstances. He remembers what you enjoy talking about and what you don’t like. As you continue to interact with him, he adapts and improves. Pepper can analyse facial expressions, body language and word use through the sensors on his body, face and screen.

While Aldebaran’s goal is for Pepper to be a human companion, it does make you wonder what drove the lightning sales of 1000 units. Was it hype, curiosity or loneliness?

It’s great to see this technology evolving. But there’s every chance it may create further isolation. Pepper is designed as a companion; it’s not designed to have its own opinion and biases.

Will our expectations of how we communicate with each other change as robots enter our daily lives? It’s probably too early to answer at this stage, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind. Robots will never replace true human interaction but they can certainly enhance our lives and our experience of life – just like Pepper can.

Sarah El-Atm recently chatted with Patricia Karvelas on RN Drive for Tech Tuesday. Check out the conversation involving Pepper, Taylor Swift and much more.

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