SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son waves with the company's human-like robot named Pepper during a news conference

Personal robots with 'emotions' to go on sale next year

Human-like robots for personal use will be on sale by next February, according to Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank.

The robots, which the mobile phone and Internet conglomerate envisions serving as baby-sitters, nurses, emergency medical workers or even party companions, will sell for 198,000 yen (£1,150) and are capable of learning and expressing emotions, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told a news conference.

A prototype will be deployed this week, serving customers at SoftBank mobile phone stores in Japan, he added. The sleek, waist-high robot, named Pepper, accompanied Son to the briefing, speaking to reporters in a high-pitched, boyish voice.

"People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we're giving a robot a heart, emotions," Son said.

The robots were developed by French robotics company Aldebaran, in which SoftBank took a stake in 2012, and will be manufactured by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry. They will use cloud computing to share data that can develop their own emotional capabilities, but Son said they would not share an owner's personal information.

Japan's population is one of the most rapidly ageing in the world and the government hopes companies can offset a decline in the labour force by utilising robotics.

Several Japanese technology manufacturers are targeting robotics for growth. Panasonic and robotics research subsidiary ActiveLink this week showcased robotic suits and vests to assist in arduous manual tasks such as carrying heavy loads or picking fruit from trees.

Personal or household robots, such as the Asimo robot that Honda has been developing for more than a decade, are seen as potential elderly care providers.

Japan's overall robotics market was worth about 860 billion yen in 2012 and is forecast to more than triple in value to 2.85 trillion yen by 2020, according to a trade ministry report last year.

A draft government growth strategy obtained by Reuters calls for a "robotic revolution" that would increase the use of robots in agriculture 20-fold and double manufacturing use.

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