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Humanoid Robot Keeps Getting Fired From His Jobs

Published by Slashdot on Thu, 15 Jul 2021


Pepper, SoftBank's robot, malfunctioned during scripture readings, took breaks in exercise class and couldn't recognize the faces of family members. From a report: Having a robot read scripture to mourners seemed like a cost-effective idea to the people at Nissei Eco, a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business. The company hired child-sized robot Pepper, clothed it in the vestments of Buddhist clergy and programmed it to chant several sutras, or Buddhist scriptures, depending on the sect of the deceased. Alas, the robot, made by SoftBank Group, kept breaking down during practice runs. "What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony'" said funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki. "It would be such a disaster." Pepper was fired. The company ended its lease of the robot and sent it back to the manufacturer. After a rash of similar mishaps across Japan, in which Pepper botched its job at a nursing home and gave baseball fans a creepy feeling, some people are saying the humanoid itself will need a funeral soon. "Because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human," said Takayuki Furuta, head of the Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology, which wasn't involved in Pepper's development. "The level of the technology completely falls short of that. It's like the difference between a toy car and an actual car." The robotics unit of SoftBank, a Tokyo-based technology investor, said in late June that it halted production of Pepper last year and was planning to restructure its global robotics teams, including a French unit involved in Pepper's development. Still, the company says the machine shouldn't be sent to the product graveyard. Spokeswoman Ai Kitamura said Pepper is SoftBank's icon and still doing good work as a teacher and a temperature taker at hospitals. She declined to comment on any of its individual mishaps. SoftBank introduced the humanoid to the world in 2014 and started selling it the next year. "Today might become a day that people 100, 200 or 300 years later would remember as a historic day," SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said at the introduction. SoftBank sold the robots to individuals for about $2,000, plus monthly fees for subscription services, and rented them to businesses starting at $550 a month. Japan has had a love affair with humanlike robots going back to Astro Boy, a robot featured in a 1960s animated television series, but there have also been breakups. Honda Motor's Asimo once kicked a soccer ball to then-President Barack Obama. Toshiba's Aiko Chihira, an android with a woman's name and appearance, briefly worked as a department store receptionist. After a while, both disappeared. More recently, a Japanese hotel chain created a robot-operated hotel, with dinosaur-shaped robots handling front-desk duties, only to reverse course after the plan failed to save money and created more work for humans.Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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