“The surprise element is a big factor – people are intrigued and they like to engage with Pepper. She can be put to work anywhere where communication is needed,” adds Fiedler. Pepper cannot hold anything. Her arms serve simply to make her look more ‘human’, but there are still lots of roles she can fulfil: sales assistant, bank adviser, guide, and much more besides.
Pepper has also been trialled as a carer. As part of a project conducted with the Demenz centre for dementia in Schleswig-Holstein and IBM in Hamburg, Pepper is being prepared for work with dementia patients, including making sure they take their medicine. The Blackout developers adapt the software for each and every customer. “Every Pepper is different – and so sometimes she develops her own eccentricities,” says Lisca, smiling.
Learning and teaching: giving a robot the human touch
“Because of her size and her design, Pepper appears quite childlike, which is a real advantage when she’s interacting with people. Most people warm to her instantly, because she’s sweet and kind,” explains founder Marc Fiedler. Software and hardware have to come together to make a good robot. The team has worked long and hard on the development. They test, experiment, adjust and test again. “The software is self-learning, so Pepper has to interact with people in order to improve. After all, we cannot foresee every single situation that daily life might present,” adds Fiedler.
The robot overlords are coming! Or are they?
When it comes to making a robot appear more human, it’s all in the detail. For instance, Pepper never stands completely still; she is always moving her arms or her head, just like a human. People don’t stand like statues, so she doesn’t either. It’s a detail that helps make people more accepting of robotic assistants. “Social robots aren’t going to replace people anytime soon. The technology isn’t that sophisticated yet. Instead, they lighten the load for people working in sales, on help desks or in patient care, giving them more time to focus on their most important tasks,” explains the team’s marketing expert, Lisa Fischer.
World Trade Center Bremen – ideal location for a start-up
The young entrepreneurs based their business in World Trade Center Bremen. They are ideally situated in the technology centre. “Here we have contact with other start-ups developing really promising technologies, and being within Bremen Airport-City, we are within easy reach of potential clients,” explains Fischer. Thanks to the early success of Pepper, the start-up has so far managed without outside financing. “And we want to keep it that way,” adds Fiedler. “We want to maintain our independence and our strength, because the market is growing so rapidly.” They want to expand quickly and attract new staff. That would take them a step closer to their ultimate goal: “One day, we want to build our own robot and herald a new era in social robotics!”
But until then, they will keep tinkering with Pepper – who, by the way, dances beautifully. Her favourite band is the French trio ‘I’m fresh! You’re pretty!’