NEC's cute communication robot, Papero, is getting a new lease on life. Japanese electronics giant NEC has announced an initiative called the Papero Partner Program, calling for research and business partners to help develop apps and distribute the robot to end users. Along with this announcement, NEC debuted the Papero Petit, the newest model of the robot.
What exactly is a communication robot? In recent years, NEC has positioned PaPeRo as a robotic assistant for the elderly. In experiments conducted at nursing homes, the robot would pipe up from time to time to remind people of their daily routines, like when to take their medication. It also connected with a pedometer to encourage a more active lifestyle by announcing how far a person walked in a day, and could take measurements like blood pressure.
The new robot, Papero Petit, stands 24 centimeters (9.4 inches) tall and weighs 1.3 kg (2.8 lbs)—about half the size of earlier models. It combines multiple sensors (cameras, ultrasonic range finders, temperature sensor, and microphones) to detect people and look in their direction even in complete darkness. The robot can recognize faces and has between 80 to 90 percent success rate at speech recognition.
But the biggest change is that, unlike earlier versions, Papero Petit is stationary, so it can no longer follow you from room to room like a cute little R2-D2. NEC hopes the robot can be improved with new features by connecting to the cloud to access software and computing resources. Family members could, for example, send text messages to the robot, which would read them aloud to their grandparents. NEC has already developed the app with NTT Docomo, one of Japan's largest telecommunications companies.
NEC is looking for more partners to help develop apps targeting a wide assortment of uses, from home security to health care. The company also wants to find partners to provide Papero to end users, renting the robot on a monthly basis. NEC says the monthly fee will likely be less than 10,000 yen (approximately US $100), and could include NTT Docomo wireless Internet, since many nursing home residents aren't online. NEC hopes to grow the business to 10 billion yen over the next three years.
Papero, whose name stands for Partner-type Personal Robot, was originally developed in 2000, following a prototype a few years earlier. Since then, NEC has improved the robot's software capabilities, revised its hardware, and used it in numerous experiments at care facilities and in smart homes. Despite these ongoing developments, the robot has never been made available to the public. The new business model seeks to change that, and if things work out, it could lead to Papero Petit arriving in homes and stores across Japan.