Pepper, a humanoid intelligent robot developed by Japanese telecom giant Softbank, has been an incredible success in its home country. The first batch of 1,000 Pepper units that was released to the Japanese consumer market earlier this June was sold out under a minute, as with later waves of limited pre-orders. These impressive results show that humanoid intelligent robots have successfully entered the general Japanese consumer market. The latest analysis from Topology Research Institute (TRI), a division of TrendForce, estimates that the combined rental and sales volume of Pepper will reach 27,000 units by 2018, with almost 90% of the customer base made up of general consumers.
“Both the market acceptance and demand for Pepper-like intelligence service robots (including companion robots, nursing robots and etc.) are rising among Japanese families,” said Harrison Po, photonics and innovative technologies analyst at TrendForce. “Likewise, demand from enterprises, retail services and financial institutions for humanoid intelligent robots that can smoothly communicate and interact with people is also growing in Japan.”
Po added that Softbank has conducted an aggressive marketing campaign that involves deploying Pepper robots at its stores and offer affordable prices and monthly fees (for Cloud services). Besides raising Pepper’s popularity and acceptance among Japanese consumers, the campaign has also resulted in trial purchases by enterprises in different sectors. The fourth round of pre-orders for Pepper is scheduled at the end of this September, and Softbank has further announced that an enterprise version of the robot will be available for pre-ordering in October. Softbank aims to expand Pepper’s market demand by introducing it to the business application market.
The number of robots sold and rented keeps rising along with those deployed in Softbank’s shops. Foxconn, the contract manufacturer in charge of assembling Pepper, is now under immense pressure to meet the surge of demand.
Foxconn’s Pepper assembly plant is located at Yantai, a city in Shandong province China. The plant’s output rate was initially five units per hour, and further automation of assembly line has raised the output rate to the current 10 units per hour. In addition to plans for expanding assembly lines, Foxconn is going to raise the assembly staff at the Yantai plant from 700 to 1,000. This will increase the hourly output rate to 15 units.