Robot charms crowd at World Cities Summit

Pepper uses sensors in its eye sockets to read the emotions of people it talks with.
Pepper uses sensors in its eye sockets to read the emotions of people it talks with.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Pepper the robot stole the show at the 2016 World Cities Summit as it danced and took cafe orders from visitors.

Summit delegates got up close and personal with Pepper, a humanoid robot developed by SoftBank Robotics, a branch of Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank, for credit card company MasterCard.

Already, the two-year-old robot has traversed the globe, lending a non-judgmental listening ear to former convicts in Japan and greeting patients in Belgian hospitals.

Pepper, which is 1.2m tall and weighs 28kg, was intended by its creators to be a social robot - in other words, the aim was to make people happy.

Unlike others of its kind - robots which carry out functions such as cleaning or carrying items - Pepper uses sensors in its eye sockets to read the emotions of the person it is communicating with.

Pepper was one of two humanoid robots deployed at two pre-schools here in early April on six-month trials, to teach children in interactive ways.

While Pepper has been used for educational and entertainment purposes overseas, this is the first local instance of a commercial transaction being integrated with a humanoid robot, said Mr Tobias Puehse, vice-president of Innovation Management, Digital Payments & Labs at MasterCard.

As a waiter, Pepper can take orders in several languages, reply to questions about the calorie counts of food items, and even recommend the specials of the day. It can also settle bills via credit card.

Restaurant chain Pizza Hut Asia will, in collaboration with MasterCard, be using Pepper to take orders and serve customers by the end of the year. If used widely in the region, robots like Pepper could fundamentally change personalised engagement and customer service, and help relieve wait staff of menial note-taking jobs.

The World Cities Summit, co-located at Marina Bay Sands with the Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, took place from July 10 to 14, and was attended by over 20,000 visitors.

Cheryl Teh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Robot charms crowd at World Cities Summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe