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.
IBM Taps Watson for Robotics Innovation
Meanwhile, IBM is currently piloting robotics technology with companies in the hospitality and consumer packaged goods industries. Through a Watson-powered Pepper solution, businesses will be able to extend the ways in which customers experience cognitive computing. Today’s self-service options in retail environments are typically tablets or kiosks, limiting the scope of how truly interactive and intuitive the customer experience can be. With a robotic assistant, users can have a natural conversation where their words, as well as gestures and expressions are understood.
“We believe that the technology is ready; now it is time to move on to the practice,” Yoshida said, noting that he believes true innovation with Watson-powered robots will be accomplished as more clients adopt the technology and begin to find “killer apps” for each industry use case. “We believe this will not be science fiction anymore – the world of C-3PO and R-2D2 will be a reality.”
Today, robots can be found in use across manufacturing and automotive industries – even as a vacuum cleaner in many homes. However, they are limited in function, interaction, and are single-task-oriented, designed to complete specific jobs. There is ample opportunity to do much more, as IBM and SBRH advance Pepper’s mobility and dexterity to extend the ways in which cognitive computing can be applied. The two organizations are exploring a range of use cases from an in-class teaching assistant to a nursing aide – taking Pepper’s unique physical characteristics, complemented by Watson’s cognitive capabilities, to deliver an enhanced experience that helps people in new ways across industry domains.
“As a provider of robotics platforms, we seek to enable Pepper’s collaboration with beneficial technologies. I anticipate this collaboration will expand Pepper’s possibilities into an even wider range of fields,” said Fumihide Tomizawa, president of SoftBank Robotics Holdings,” in a statement.
As businesses look to increase customer engagement, many are leveraging cognitive systems to help make sense of data that can deepen this connection. Cognitive systems like Watson can help derive insights from new sources of information about people, for example what they share on social media in order to create better snapshots of their needs and what’s important to them. These systems also learn how people prefer to interact with brands, enabling companies to use that understanding to more personally reach out to individuals, IBM said.
According to a recent BI Intelligence report, “Robotics, long dominated by industrial and logistics uses, has begun to see a shift toward new consumer and office applications. There will be a $1.5 billion market for consumer and business robots by 2019.”