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SoftBank announces further robot workplace trials

Japanese tech group unleashes Pepper follow-up, ‘Nao’, to work in bank branches

SoftBank’s Pepper and Nao are part of a scramble by Japan’s tech sector to come up with non-human labour to support the nation’s shrinking workforce.
SoftBank’s Pepper and Nao are part of a scramble by Japan’s tech sector to come up with non-human labour to support the nation’s shrinking workforce.

Japanese telecoms and technology conglomerate SoftBank - which last year made headlines by introducing an emotion-sensitive android named Pepper - is continuing the country's robotics revolution with Nao, a 58cm-tall mechanoid that will work as a customer relations operative in selected branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group from April.

According to a report in The Guardian, Nao's trial, if successful, could lead to further "jobs" for its kin at other branches of the financial group.

Nao, which is built by SoftBank's French subsidiary, Aldebaran Robotics, is programmed to interact in 19 languages and, like his counterpart, Pepper, has the ability to recognise human emotions from facial expressions fed to it by a camera on its forehead.

"Hello and welcome," Nao said, at a demo in Tokyo earlier this week. "I can tell you about money exchange, ATMs, opening a bank account, or overseas remittance. Which one would you like?"

Pepper and Nao are part of a scramble by Japan's tech sector to answer calls from politicians, including prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to come up with non-human labour to support the nation's shrinking workforce. Pepper is already used by SoftBank as a shop assistant at its mobile phone outlets in Tokyo. Nestle Japan has announced plans to use Pepper to sell coffee machines at 1,000 stores by year-end.