IBM Taps Watson for Robotics Innovation

IBM partners with SoftBank Robotics Holdings to create customer-assisting robots powered by the Watson cognitive computing system.

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IBM Watson

IBM is tapping its Watson cognitive computing platform to advance the company’s robotics initiatives, partnering with SoftBank Robotics Holdings to offer a version of Watson for SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robots.

IBM and SBRH will tap into data and knowledge across the Internet of things to enable Watson-powered Pepper to make sense of the hidden meaning in data that traditional computers cannot comprehend – including social media, video, images and text. IBM said Watson represents a new era in computing where systems understand the world in the way that humans do: through senses, learning, and experience.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty brought together the IoT, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in a demonstration of the SoftBank Pepper robot. Rometty also announced that IBM will provide the global distribution and support for the Watson-powered Pepper robots, which are aimed at the global enterprise market.

The Watson-powered Pepper robot under development would be equipped with core functionalities as well as a Watson software development kit (SDK) that allows developers and clients to tailor the interaction experience. IBM will give clients access to Watson APIs and various pre-packaged applications designed to address a variety of personal and professional needs.

“Today, the power of cognitive computing can be woven into any form factor. Our collaboration with SBRH on Pepper will allow a much broader audience to experience and tap into Watson,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson, in a statement. “In terms of hands-on interaction, when cognitive capabilities are embedded in robotics, you see people engage and benefit from this technology in new and exciting ways.”

Joining Rometty on stage for her CES keynote, Kenichi Yoshida, vice president of business development at SoftBank Robotics, said SoftBank believes IoT, AI and robotics will be at the center of the IT business for the next several years and SoftBank is investing in each area.

“Together with IBM, our teaching Watson Japanese project is successfully completed and we have started more than 10 projects with clients in Japan,” he said. “At the same time, we are developing the Watson partner ecosystem network with more than a dozen partners.”

Watson enables a greater degree of customer engagement than other AI implementations and also is adept at ingesting and analyzing big data, Yoshida said. “If we can combine the human-like customer interface with big data and Watson computing power, we can create the real customer service staff robot.”

Pepper can read up to 800 million pages of data a second. Yoshida said the robot can serve in the retail, travel, hospitality, healthcare or other industries with “deep industry knowledge.” Pepper is currently at work in banks and retail establishments in Japan.