Humanoid robot Pepper has taken up a job as a receptionist in two hospitals in Belgium in what has been described as a world first.
The 1.2m tall Pepper robots developed by Japanese telecoms corporation SoftBank and French firm Aldebaran Robotics, have previously been deployed as hotel concierges, shop assistants and railway station staff.
Now they have joined personnel in the CHR Citadelle hospital in Liege and AZ Damiaan in Oostende.
The application was developed by Belgian Zora Bots, which specialises in developing robots for the healthcare sector. Previously, the firm has been using the Nao platform, also developed by Aldebaran, to create sociable robots for retirement homes and hospitals.
Pepper, which can recognise and respond to human emotions, will be used to help patients to find their way around the hospitals and provide advice on various problems.
Both of the hospitals involved in the project have already been experimenting with social robots from Aldebaran and used the smaller Naos in their paediatric departments to help children cope with unpleasant procedures.
The robots have also been used to keep company to elderly patients and motivate them to follow through with their exercise regimes and other activities designed to ward off cognitive decline.
The larger and more mobile Pepper will be stationed in the hospitals’ lobby as the first point of contact for patients entering the premises.
Pepper, which has been a huge hit especially in Japan, usually sells for $1,800 (£1,230). However, according to the BBC, the hospital variety will be more expensive, coming in at $34,000 (£24,000).
The robot can understand and speak twenty languages and tell whether it is talking to a man, woman or a child.
It moves on three multi-directional wheels, which allow it to travel at speeds of up to 3km/h. A high-capacity lithium-ion battery gives the robot 12 hours of functioning without needing a recharge.
Pepper has four directional microphones in its head detecting sound, which enable it to understand where people are standing. The robot can then respond by turning its head to face the speaker. Two HD cameras and one 3D camera in its face allow Pepper to detect faces and recognise facial expressions.
The robot is equipped with an advanced emotion engine that analyses what people say, the tone of their voice and nonverbal communication cues like the tilt of the head or posture. From these inputs, Pepper can instantly recognise the emotional context of the conversation and adjust accordingly, its makers claim.
Last month, SoftBank has invited Android developers to create new apps that would expand Pepper’s functionality.