The Robots are here: Pepper and Nao hit schoolroom and Pizza Hut

Nao and Pepper

Nao and Pepper

Following the news that Adidas is to open its robot shoemaking factory for full production next year, I was browsing the new Campaign magazine website and found this gem. Apparently Pepper, the undeniably appealing humanoid robot is starting work at Pizza Hut.

I then came across a piece in an Australian newspaper saying that two schools there are using robot teaching assistants.

Just as artificial intelligence seemed to have reached a tipping point earlier this year when Microsoft’s accidentally racist/sexist Tay chatbot focused attention on the tech, so Robots seem to be at a tipping point too with news coming faster than ever and lots of real-world examples of robots making an impact.

I actually saw Japanese firm Softbank’s Pepper robot in action at the Millennials 20/20 conference a few weeks ago (yes, there really is a conference called Millennials 20/20). And she/it is really appealing. But she’s also really useful, according to the article in Campaign.

Basically, she can do everything a human waiter can do (although I doubt she’ll spit on your pizza if you’re rude to her). But given that Pizza Hut has teamed up with MasterCard for the Pepper initiative, in this case she’s all about taking and processing payments.

Unfortunately, she won’t be in Pizza Hut in Lewisham or Sidcup any time soon as the deal is for Asian restaurants. But by the end of this year, users of MasterCard’s MasterPass will be able to interact with Pepper who can provide personalised recommendations, product information, and assistance in paying for items.

It’ll be interesting to see how much traffic this drives to both Pizza Hut and MasterPass. Will people turn up/sign up just for the chance to see a robot in action? It’s possible. Robots are still enough of a curiosity at present.

But that could change as they become far more commonplace and the robotics market soars. Which brings me to the story about their use in schools. Kids will go from being digital natives to robot natives if their use becomes widespread and will be quite at ease with robots into home in the workplace or anywhere else as a result. Maybe they’ll prefer a robot dog to a real one.

In the two Australian schools, we can really see the versatility of robots. The humanoid robot NAO is being used to help teach functional and social skills to primary school kids with autism. But it’s not just for young kids, with older students in another school learning how to write computer code with NAO or just to have a more enjoyable maths and science class experience.

I just wish NAO had been around 40 years ago because maths and science really were not remotely enjoyable for me. A cute humanoid robot could have tipped the balance… At least that’s my excuse.

Anyway, cue another opportunity for me to include a picture of my robot hero, Bender from Futurama…


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