TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son on Wednesday said so-called smart robots can revitalise Japan’s economy and competitiveness, doubling down on robotics just as the company’s much-hyped “Pepper” robot prepares to bow out.
Son, at the online SoftBank World 2021 conference, said the firm’s Vision Fund is involved with 18 companies developing machines enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI), far beyond the dancing and door-greeting capabilities of the cutesy Pepper.
“We had a grandiose debut event with Pepper several years ago, now it is hanging its head low,” Son said, standing in front of a projection of a slumping, switched-off Pepper.
The SoftBank founder now sees a future with “smart robots that will replace not just the manufacturing, industrial working population, but the entire working population.”
Son packed his keynote address with videos of humanoid robots running and jumping, as well as canister-shaped machines cleaning floors.
However, he offered no specifics on new investments or market prices of any of the devices, nor did he not touch on SoftBank’s investing pause in China where regulators have dramatically increased scrutiny of technology firms.
In June, SoftBank sold 80% of Boston Dynamics, maker of the dog-like “Spot”, to South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group for $1.1 billion. A month later, we reported sales of Pepper, unveiled by Son with much fanfare in 2014, would end in 2023.
Son on Wednesday said SoftBank remains a collaborating partner with Boston Dynamics, and that from Pepper will come a generation of more functional smart robots – or what he called “smabo”, a contraction of “smart” and “robot” in Japanese.
Such machines will have the potential to revolutionise the workforce, as one smart robot can do 10 times the daily output of a human, Son said. In Japan, that means 100 million robots could do the work of 1 billion people, he added.
“Humans can be liberated from boring work,” he said. “(They) can work on something that has more added value.”
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Christopher Cushing)