The Pepper World Paris event took place on April 20th-21st, 2017
Carling Knight and David Graves of GWS Robotics report on the exhibition.
The Pepper World Paris event was hosted by SoftBank Robotics at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, a large science museum located in the Pont-de-Flandre district within the 19th arondissement of Paris.
The museum is focused on exploring the recent advances in science and industry, and includes various showrooms. It is serviced by an extensive series of restaurants dotted alongside the showrooms.
The building itself is architecturally impressive, with a futuristic design, featuring large amounts of metal and glass intertwined with water fountains around the outside.
It is further surrounded by the Parc de la Villette, a sea of green amid the grey architecture of the city. The effect is an impression that leaves you thinking of the integration of technology with a healthy environment, two aspirations that might be seen as difficult to reconcile.
This was a very appropriate setting in which to host a conference dedicated to the future of a robot whose aim is to give people friendly assistance with the business of their day.
The event itself was hosted in Le Loft, a showroom within the museum that, with the sheer scale of the building as a whole, felt like an underground venue. This sense applies to the rest of the building too: rooms felt like bunkers thanks to the scale.
Within Le Loft, SoftBank had positioned 36 partner booths with Pepper robots ready to go. We arrived earlier than most of the visitors, so when we walked through the crowd of Peppers, they turned their heads to look up to us as we passed by.
SoftBank Robotics Partners are companies that have agreed to a close business relationship with SoftBank. To qualify for Partner status, companies must support SoftBank’s business development goals and communicate the same brand messages. A Partner shares publicity for SoftBank promoting the adoption of robots in business and leisure environments.
Most of the Softbank Partners at the event were present on the first day. 36 of them had booths demonstrating the work that they had been doing on Pepper, while the others were present to discuss their work.
SoftBank kicked the event off with a choreographed dance featuring six Peppers. They performed a complicated dance routine to some suitably robotic music. You can see five of the six ’dancers’ below taking a quick breather while the speaker began his talk.
Carrefour, Renault and AXA Bank then gave presentations describing what they had learned in their experiences with deployment of Pepper robots in their own business premises. Carrefour described how they had initially launched Pepper robots running six applications in their stores; then after assessing the popularity and usage levels of each, they pared this down to the three that are most popular, which remain in active use. These are a simple chat with Pepper, some simple games, and a wine advisor. Carrefour found that while the wine advisor had the fewest interactions of the three applications it decided to retain, it had the longest interaction time, whereas the quick chat was interacted with at a higher frequency but the period of interaction was shorter.
Renault described how they had successfully deployed 113 Pepper robots across their showrooms, demonstrating similar apps to those of Carrefour. For the most part, they reported that Pepper was serving as a catalogue or as an interesting way to engage children while their parents visited showrooms. AXA Bank reported very similar findings to those of Renault.
One of the Partners demonstrated an incredible combination of hand-tracking and virtual reality by allowing you to see through Pepper’s eyes and move his arms by moving yours! The demonstration was impressive, showing the potential for future robots to enter areas that would be hazardous for humans while being completely and intuitively controllable by a human being.
ZoraBots demonstrated a time-saving payments system they had developed that would allow Pepper to walk up to people in a queue and take their order, and then take payment for it before they even reached the counter.
SoftBank now have more than 70 Partners, with most of those coming on board in 2016. They have become increasingly partner-facing in their strategic business orientation: by supporting their partners, they can increase the value and popularity of Pepper.
As the first day drew to a close, Pepper World Paris was over as a public event. The second day was an exclusive conference between SoftBank and the Partners. Throughout this day, SoftBank covered their future plans in terms of business, software and hardware. There is a number of exciting developments in the works.