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Robot named Pepper amuses Shoppers in San Francisco, but how Practical is it?

FILE - Visitors crowd around Pepper, a companion robot, during the World Robot Conference in Beijing. China, Oct. 21, 2016. VOA

While merrily chirping, dancing and posing for selfies, a robot named Pepper looks like another expensive toy at a San Francisco mall. But don’t dismiss it as mere child’s play.

Pepper embodies the ambitions of SoftBank Robotics, an Asian joint venture formed by a trio of major technology companies that’s aiming to put its personable robots in businesses and homes across the U.S. over the next few years.

If the technology advances as Softbank Robotics hopes, Pepper could become a playmate, companion and concierge. It could eventually respond to voice commands to retrieve vital information, make reservations and control home appliances that are connected to the internet.

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That’s the theory, anyway. For now, Pepper is more amusing than practical, Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder said.

For instance, Pepper has been directing shoppers to stores in the mall through text messages because it still isn’t advanced enough to say them out loud. And Pepper still has trouble understanding what people are asking, requiring shoppers to type in their requests for mall directions on a tablet mounted on the robot’s chest.

SoftBank is trying to improve Pepper’s capabilities by focusing first on the business market — retailers, hotels, auto dealerships and even hospitals. SoftBank hopes to use those environments to learn more about what consumers like and don’t like about Pepper and, from that, teach it more tasks, said Steve Carlin, the venture’s vice president for marketing and business development in North America.

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Mall encounters

The recently launched test runs in Westfield Corp.’s malls in San Francisco and Santa Clara, California, mark the first time that Pepper has made an extended appearance in the U.S. The robots began appearing just before Thanksgiving and will stick around through mid-February.

Carlin said about 300 to 500 people per day engaged with Pepper during its first month in the San Francisco mall. During a recent visit, kids flocked around the 4-foot-tall humanoid as it spoke in a cherubic voice that could belong to either a boy or girl.

Westfield views Pepper as a way to make shopping in the mall more entertaining and enjoyable at a time when people are increasingly buying merchandise online. Three Peppers are sprinkled in heavily trafficked areas around Westfield’s San Francisco mall and the two more are in the Santa Clara center. If all goes well, Westfield also plans to bring Pepper to its New York mall at the World Trade Center and the Garden State mall in Paramus, New Jersey.

“We put her in our [human resources] system and have given her a name tag,” said Shawn Pauli, senior vice president for Westfield.

Japan, Europe

Pepper got its start two years ago in Japan before expanding into Europe. In those two markets, more than 10,000 Peppers are already operating in grocery stores, coffee shops, banks, cruise lines, railway stations and homes. Most of the robots are in businesses. SoftBank hasn’t disclosed how many have been sold to consumers.

Carlin acknowledged the U.S. would be a tougher market to crack than Japan, where he said consumers tend to embrace new technology more quickly.

In addition, Pepper’s price is likely to be out of reach for most consumers. The robot currently sells for about $2,000; a three-year subscription covering software upgrades, insurance and technology support increases the total to $18,000 to $20,000.

Softbank Robotics is controlled by Japan’s Softbank Group, a technology conglomerate that recently pledged to invest $50 billion in U.S. startups. A remaining 40 percent stake is equally owned by China’s Alibaba Group, Asia’s e-commerce leader, and by Taiwan’s Foxconn, which assembles Apple’s iPhone and is considering a U.S. expansion.

‘LoweBot’ has an edge

Despite its pedigree, Pepper already lags behind a cruder-looking robot that home improvement retailer Lowe’s has been testing as a way to help shoppers find merchandise in its sprawling stores, Gownder said.

The “LoweBot,” a box-like machine on wheels, began patrolling a San Jose, California, store last month and will begin showing up in 10 other stores in the San Francisco Bay area in early 2017. If all goes well, it could become a fixture in all Lowe’s stores.

Gownder gives LoweBot the early edge over Pepper because Lowe’s machine has a detailed database of the store’s inventory, enabling it to quickly determine whether something is in stock and then guide shoppers to the aisle where the requested item is located.

“While Pepper offers a lively, appealing interface, it remains to be seen whether it will fill the role that retailers want,” Gownder said. “Does it have enough intelligence to answer customers’ questions effectively?”

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Greater ambitions

While LoweBot is a one-trick pony, focused on retail tasks, SoftBank’s ambitions with Pepper are greater. Pepper has enough artificial intelligence to recognize smiles and frowns, helping the robot understand the mood of a person interacting with it. But it also tends to lock its electronic eyes on someone standing in front of it and continue to follow people as they look away while ignoring the next visitor.

A recent visitor to the San Francisco mall, Sharif Ezzat, noticed some of Pepper’s shortcomings and concluded that the robot is still a long way from having mass appeal.

“I can’t see it right now, but I can see where it’s going,” Ezzat said of Pepper’s potential.

Chaz MacSwan, a puppeteer in San Francisco, was more impressed.

“Look at the joy it’s bringing to people, especially the kids,” MacSwan said. “I’d love to have one, especially if it could clean the carpets.” (VOA)


Next Story

Top Deferred MBA Programs

The 2 year post graduate course is a gateway to a plethora of corporate level job opportunities with a primary focus on the managerial level

MBA, Programs, Business
The curriculum consists of major subjects such as finance, business, accounting, economics, operations, strategic management, organization and the relevant subjects. Pixabay

 By Abhyank Srinet

MBA, Programs, Business
Abhyank Srinet.


Master of business administration is an internationally recognized degree which is acronymed MBA. It is one of the most popular professional degrees with over 2,5000 programs across the world. The curriculum consists of major subjects such as finance, business, accounting, economics, operations, strategic management, organization and the relevant subjects which are in accordance with your major. The 2 year post graduate course is a gateway to a plethora of corporate level job opportunities with a primary focus on the managerial level. It is offered in the form of both classroom and distance learning programs. CAT, NMAT, SNAP, XAT, GMAT, MAT and other entrance exams of several MBA colleges test  a student’s aptitude with the help of a written test, a group discussion round that follows and finally with the personal interview which is a selection round wherein they are chosen on the basis of the diversity and effectiveness of their profile as opposed to the previous ones where candidates are eliminated on their errors. After going through this series of rigorous tests is an applicant qualified to get admission into a reputed business school. The course strengthen a person’s business acumen, problem solving and analytical skills and grooms their overall personality to help them compete well and stand out in the job market, both nationally and globally.

What is deferred MBA:-

Deferred MBA is similar to MBA in almost all respects except one where it grants pre-admission to students 2 years prior to the actual MBA. This period is assigned for the students to gain the required work experience after which the classes begin. It is a guaranteed entry program for those who have an interest in pursuing an MBA and have pre decided to do so. It gives a relief to applicants from the vigorous application processes and the preparation of the entrance exam. The program offers college seniors the option of starting early in the MBA game. It combines the goodness of a reputed international MBA, which ordinarily seeks experienced candidates, with early career MBA.Students don’t have to wait too long before commencing on a high-flying career post-MBA. If a student stays on track, he may receive lucrative job offers by his mid-20s.

MBA, Programs, Business
Master of business administration is an internationally recognized degree which is acronymed MBA. Pixabay

Top schools for deferred MBA

This is a list of schools which offer deferred MBA:-

  • Harvard business school-  The deferred MBA program at Harvard is one of the leading STEM and humanities discipline students. The 2+2 curriculum enrolls students in college or graduate programs. They employ case studies which enhances the leadership skills of a student and their experience based learning instills in them deep general strategic management tactics. Students build a global experience, drawing from global cases and protagonists, a diverse international student body, international project-based field experiences and immersive field courses. To be considered for admission to the 2+2 class starting from 2022 (entering 2020) the student must have completed graduation by September 30 2017.
  • Stanford GSB enrollment program- The Stanford GSB enrollment program is open for students who wish to begin an MBA immediately after senior year. It aims to construct an MBA by engaging students from various educational and professional backgrounds. It is specifically engineered for students who do not have full time work experience. Candidates for this program can apply in any round, but it is advised to apply in round 3 with a fee of $100. If a student meets the criteria for deferred enrollment, they could attend the business school immediately after the university program or to work before the commencement of classes. The committed faculty members and a collaborative learning environment helps students specialize in entrepreneurship skills, communication skills, social innovation, leadership etc. Not only do they ensure a guaranteed position in reputed companies but the candidates also inculcate proficiency in numerous franternities alongside their major subject.

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  • Wharton moelis advance access program- This is the newest entry amongst the deferred management programs. The Moelis Advance access program is only open for undergraduates of University of Pennsylvania. The students enjoy access to rich Wharton network and resources during the deferment period. They are also considered for fellowship programs at various prestigious establishments with upto $10000/year stipend. 
  • Yale SOM silver scholars program- Yale Silver Scholars deferred admission program is considered to be the most unique among others. The program structure is divided uniformly over three years. The students undergo core curriculum at Yale during the first year. During the second year, the students undertake extended internships at various departments like start-ups, government education departments, general management roles in large corporations and investment firms. The third year allows students to pursue elective coursework before graduation. This unconventional program is considered to be one of the most prestigious business programs across the globe. 
  • Chicago booth scholars program- Chicago booth has been a hub for research and business education for over a century. MBA deferment programs encourage students to begin the admission process even before they leave their university and enter the business world. Throughout the period of 2 to 4 years booth students are a part of the booth community and have access to seminars, meetups, talks, alumni and corporate events and collaborations with prospective companies which could be a great boon to kickstart their professional career. The application procedure is normal and straightforward but unlike many other top colleges, the application fee at Chicago booth scholars program is waived for all the applicants.
MBA, Programs, Business
It is one of the most popular professional degrees with over 2,5000 programs across the world. Pixabay


Deferred MBA can be a life changing decision in a student’s life and it is hence important to thoroughly research and compare the programs offered by various institutions. This should be done to ensure that the final choice is a result of vigorous planning of the interests, requirements and expectations from the course. Select what is best for you and work towards achieving the same.

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Abhyank Srinet holds a Masters in Management degree from ESCP Europe & has an

engineering degree with a specialization in Instrumentation & Control. His interest in the digital landscape motivated him to create an online start up for Masters in Management application consulting (, focused on spreading quality information about the MiM degree & performing application consulting services for clients. He is the chief consultant of the

company and takes care of Business Development and Digital Marketing side of the    company. He is very passionate about writing and marketing.