TOKYO – I’m Japanese and so I’m a sucker for cute things, like manga, quirky figurines and mascot characters. And Pepper, the new companion robot from Tokyo-based technology company Softbank Corp., delivers cuteness like you’ve never seen.What’s striking is the absolutely ardent attention it gives you — frankly a lot better than some real-life people.“You look a bit thin,” it coos in a soft childlike voice, free of any rigid mechanical accent. “You should watch what you eat.”The 121-centimetre (four-foot) tall white machine-on-wheels was disarmingly charming and definitely intriguing when I spent half a day with it, ahead of its delivery to its first customers later this month.It’s another matter entirely whether it’s worth the price tag of 198,000 yen ($1,600), plus the maintenance and insurance costs that ownership entails, adding up to some 1.2 million yen ($10,000) for an estimated three-year lifespan.Only available in Japan so far, overseas sales are undecided. The programming it has now caters to Japanese tastes. A U.S. version will obviously have to be quite different.Pepper has cameras, lasers and infrared in its hairless head so it can detect human faces. Whatever direction you move, its cocked head will also move, intently looking into your face with its big eyes, like a puppy. Except this pet can talk.As long as you don’t walk too far from it, removing yourself from its attention, Pepper will prattle on and on, switching from one small talk topic to another, gesticulating at times with its five-fingered soft hands for effect.“Do you want to play a quiz game? What animal goes like this: bow wow,” it might say. It will tell you “cat” is the wrong answer.And then it will ask, “What did you have for dinner?” If you say, “Tempura,” it has enough voice recognition to decipher that and will reply: “Oh, Japanese.” I tried answering, “Steak,” another time. It said, “Oh, Western.”Yes, the conversations do sometimes repeat themselves, but so does human dialogue.The robot is equipped with enough of a repertoire to avoid easy boredom. That repertoire is constantly being updated through a WiFi connection.Each Pepper is hand-made by Foxconn in China, limiting supplies to 1,000 a month. The first batch for July sold out in a minute.It’s attracting regular technology fans but also a kindergarten, a cafe and people who’re buying it for their elderly parents.The kind of patient interaction Pepper excels at is recommended for people with dementia. So Pepper might come to the rescue of stressed out families.Equipped with artificial intelligence by Aldebaran of France, Pepper has what Softbank calls an emotional engine, meaning it reacts to what it interprets as anger or sorrow in humans around it by deciphering voice tones, facial expressions and language.It also has programming that sets off the equivalent of its own human emotions, such as getting nervous if a room suddenly goes dark, or elation when you pet its head and shower it with praise, such as: “You are the best-looking robot I have ever seen. I love you. You’re the best.”“I am going to cry for joy,” it says, throwing its arms up in the air.On the flat-panel display attached to its chest, it offers boxes to tap for various tasks, such as reading storybooks, giving a tarot-card reading, playing the radio, working as a drum machine and relaying the weather forecast.It has some cool dance moves as well. One is shaking its body in a rubbery way. Another is doing elegant hand gestures as it plays Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”Owners may be tempted to give the thing a wig or dress it up. That’s not recommended as it can overheat. It keeps going for 10 to 12 hours on a single charge. It charges from a regular household outlet.Softbank offers a basic software application kit so even a child can create applications for Pepper. Softbank has an in-house standard for violence, pornography and other abuse for its own applications.This is not some slapped together toy of a robot. It’s the first convincing semblance of a step toward artificial intelligence fantasized in science fiction movies that’s affordable for the regular home.It isn’t for everyone. You have to have an open mind.The way it’s designed, Pepper is basically about human relationships.It could be the life of a party. It could be a dream-come-true robot friend for a child.For parents, it can keep track of a baby growing up with photos Pepper takes over the years and other data kept in cloud storage. Pepper’s record could also hold special meaning, if its owner were to die.Pepper is imperfect. But so are human beings.It tried to guess how tall I was and said 163 centimetres (five foot four), 10 centimetres (four inches) taller than I am. I said I wanted to go to “Hawaii,” but it misheard that as not going anywhere, perhaps because the Japanese for none, or “nai,” rhymes with Hawaii.Of course, there is no illusion it’s human. But just as a movie, a video game or a good book can be fascinating, without any pretense about being real, Pepper is fun.“Let’s grow and get better together,” it says with bubbly emotion in a poignant conversational moment.Even when it isn’t talking and standing still, it appears to be breathing, inhaling and exhaling softly. Its arms move ever so slightly.And that is preciously cute.___Follow Yuri Kageyama: twitter.com/yurikageyama Japanese robot offers ardent attention, cool dance moves, small talk, but doesn’t come cheap In this photo taken on Thursday, July 9, 2015, SoftBank Corp.’s new companion robot Pepper performs during an interview at the technology company headquarters in Tokyo. Pepper, the 121-centimeter (four-foot) tall white machine-on-wheels, offers ardent attention, cool dance moves, and small talk. Pepper has cameras, lasers and infrared in its hairless head so it can detect human faces. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi) by Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press Posted Jul 13, 2015 7:25 am MDT Last Updated Jul 13, 2015 at 8:20 am MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email
Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “It’s been completely insane and the whole feeling is overwhelming,” she said. “I was at The Cake and Bake Show in Manchester last weekend and it really was a ‘stop and wow’ moment.”People are so lovely and I love it but, at the same time, sometimes it can really take me by surprise. Every so often, I get hit with this wave of overwhelming emotion and I get quite emotional when I think that this is really happening to me.”If it hadn’t been for the school being so supportive at the beginning and letting me go and film Bake Off, I wouldn’t be here now.”Brown said that children at her school were surprised to see her back after viewers saw her win the series in October – the last before the show moves to Channel 4 – because they thought that she was now a millionaire.”They asked me why I was back after the final as I was now a millionaire. I explained to them that I hadn’t won a million but, in fact, a cake stand!”Leaving on Friday was emotional but I am excited about the future now, scared, too, and I am a bit of a worrier. But I cannot thank everybody enough for giving me this amazing opportunity and for my school letting me grab it with both hands and running with it.”I am a very lucky person.” Brown added: “It was so incredibly lovely of him to say this.”She said that it was very emotional saying a fond farewell to her pupils and fellow staff at the end of last week.”I will miss them so much,” she said. “I work in special needs and you are fighting the children’s corner so much. But I have had long conversations with my parents and my boyfriend, Liam, and I know it is the right decision.”I can’t thank the school enough, especially my head of department, Elly, who has been amazing, and I feel so grateful for the fact they have been so supportive. I keep thanking them all the time! It’s such a great new chapter for me.”She plans to take her time to map her future but Brown, who has signed up with a team of TV agents, says that she keeps pinching herself since winning the BBC1 show. “At first, I kept telling the school I would stay until December but they were so incredible and told me I had to grab everything whilst I could.”Brown said her school suggested she leave now, rather than at the end of this year, and that doing so would inspire the school’s pupils to follow their dreams.The Bake Off winner said: “My headteacher told me: ‘You’ve got to do this, you can’t do it half-heartedly. I wouldn’t forgive myself if you missed out.”It’s not that we don’t want you here but you have to give it 100%. If we can’t encourage our staff to follow their dreams and inspire, then we are not doing our job properly. You are showing the kids that anything is possible.”‘ Credit:Ken McKay /ITV / Rex / Shutterstock Candice Brown triumphed in this year’s final Credit:Mark Bourdillon/BBC / Love Productions Brown said she had discovered over the past few weeks that trying to juggle her day job – which involves working with children with special needs – with new commitments was too difficult.But Brown, who also teaches PE, said she could not have made the jump had it not been for the support of staff at Ashlyns School in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Her last day at the secondary school was on Friday.She said: “This has been such an agonising decision to make. Never in a million years did I ever go into the show thinking this would happen. That is why I have been back at school teaching since I won the final. “I have been teaching for about eight years now and I love it. But since winning the final, I have also been completely bowled over by the amazing opportunities that I have been offered. The winner of The Great British Bake Off Candice Brown has quit her job as a PE teacher to pursue the “amazing opportunities” she has been offered since the series.The 31-year-old, who beat Jane Beedle and Andrew Smyth in the final, shocked pupils when she returned to her post.But she has now made the “agonising” decision to put her job as a teacher on hold to pursue a career in baking.