5 July 2023

Meet Pepper. What would you say to the smartest commercial robot in the world?

| Morgan Kenyon
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Pepper the robot

Pepper is the very first robot of its kind – a social, humanoid AI that can recognise faces and read basic emotions. Photos: University of Canberra.

How would you like to connect with the most advanced commercial robot on earth? Here’s your chance – Pepper makes its public debut in Canberra this month.

Fuelled by sophisticated AI, Pepper is designed to interact with everyday people in complex environments. Pepper’s manufacturer, SoftBank Robotics, describes Pepper as a link between the real and digital worlds.

“Pepper is a robot designed for people. Built to connect with them, assist them, and share knowledge with them.

“Friendly and engaging, Pepper creates unique experiences and forms real relationships.”

Pepper’s debut exhibition, A Conversation with a Robot, is part of the upcoming Uncharted Territory festival at the Australian National University (ANU).

READ MORE Capital’s newest major festival invites you to explore Uncharted Territory

The bright minds behind this festival promote exploration, creativity and growth – and they’re showcasing it locally to bridge the gaps between science, art and innovation.

One such bright mind is that of University of Canberra (UC) Associate Professor Dr Damith Herath.

Dr Herath is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur with over two decades of experience leading complex robotic integration, industrial and research projects. He says art influences his work as a roboticist.

A Conversation with a Robot is a research project that will feed into our understanding of how robots and humans interact and work together, by letting us observe their interactions in the so-called wild,” he says.

“I’ve been working over the last 10 years to bring communities at the intersection of robots and art together, to understand each other’s perspectives, and explore common features and futures.

“It’s a fascinating yet underutilised space that holds a lot of value and possibility for growth.”

Damith Herath

Associate Professor Dr Damith Herath leads multidisciplinary robotic research projects and is the co-and founding chair of the International Workshop on Robotics & Art.

Visitors of all ages can attend A Conversation with a Robot to interact with Pepper. Over-18s can also participate in the research study by registering online.

Dr Herath says Pepper and other related exhibitions at the festival act as an opportunity to debunk common misconceptions about AI.

“Pepper has proven to be very popular and useful in complex environments including retail, hospitality, finance, education and more,” he says.

“There is still a fair amount of cynicism when it comes to AI in our everyday lives, which we contribute largely to misinformation and inexperience.

“Studies, exhibitions and panels like the ones at Uncharted Territory allow the public to see AI in action first-hand and make their own conclusions about the possibilities it presents.”

Excited to meet Pepper? While you’re at the festival, check out Melanie Lane’s First Kiss: A Robotic Pas de deux and expert panel Will Sex Robots Get the Vote? Setting the Robotic Record Straight.

Pepper can be found in ANU’s Kambri Cultural Centre at A Conversation with a Robot, part of Uncharted Territory festival, from 7 to 16 July. Entry is free and open from 10 am to 4 pm.

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