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So Long, Pepper: Softbank Halts Famous Robot Production

The multinational conglomerate pulls the plug on the 'first robot with a heart' due to financial losses.

So Long, Pepper: Softbank Halts Famous Robot Production
Pepper Robot in a promotional video. SoftBank Robotics

SoftBank Group Corp has halted production of its famous Pepper robot and its continues to cut jobs at its robotics business, a report by Reuters explains.

Internal documents reviewed by the global news firm state that production of Pepper robot was stopped last year, and that, financially, it wouldn't make sense for the company to stop and restart production in a short period of time. By all accounts, this looks like the end of the company's famous flagship robot. 

The move comes amid a series of job cuts for SoftBank's robotics business, first reported by French business website Le Journal du Net, with reported losses of €100 million (approx. $119 million) over a three-year period.

The 'first robot with a heart' 

Pepper robot was introduced to the world in 2014 and was seen by many as a symbol for the positive impact technology can have on our lives.

The humanoid machine was originally designed to guide people at conferences, help customers at stores, and babysit, amongst a large number of other roles, including as a robotics research platform.

Described at launch as the "first robot with a heart," Pepper robot was designed to be aesthetically pleasing and cute so as to win over humans skeptical of robots in the workforce.

SoftBank to continue investing in next-gen robots despite cuts

Built by Foxconn in China, the manufacturing giant also responsible for the iPhone, Pepper robot never quite reached the potential SoftBank had hoped. According to one of Reuters' sources, the company only produced 27,000 of the robot units before halting production.

As part of its plans to slow down its robotics business, SoftBank will also cut 330 staff positions in France in September — SoftBank's robotics business was originally started in 2012, when the company acquired French robotics firm Aldebaran.

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Still, in a statement, SoftBank said that, despite the recent cuts in its robotics business, it "will continue to make significant investments in next-generation robots to serve our customers and partners."

An unhappy working relationship?

Several outlets, including The Japan Times, point towards an unhappy working relationship between SoftBank's French business and Tokyo management, as well as limited functionality for Pepper leading to poor sales.

This resulted in SoftBank shifting its focus towards other products, including its cleaning robot Whiz, with the French business increasingly kept out of the loop.

The halt on Pepper robot production and job cuts in its robotics business doesn't mean that SoftBank is turning its back on robotics: the multinational conglomerate will now reportedly focus on investing in new technologies via its Vision Fund, the world's largest technology-focused venture fund, with over $100 billion in capital.

 

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