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SoftBank's Pepper robot is getting an intelligence boost from IBM's Watson

Sam Byford

Just under a year after Watson learned how to speak Japanese, IBM's supercomputer is about to get more familiar with one of the country's most famous robots. Pepper, the emotional android developed by SoftBank and Aldebaran Robotics, will get a version powered by Watson with an SDK that allows developers to tap into what IBM calls "cognitive computing."

"Today, the power of cognitive computing can be woven into any form factor. Our collaboration with SBRH [SoftBank Robotics Holdings] on Pepper will allow a much broader audience to experience and tap into Watson," said IBM's Watson SVP Mike Rhodin 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."

The two companies say they're "exploring a range of use cases from an in-class teaching assistant to a nursing aide," matching "Pepper's unique physical characteristics" to "Watson's cognitive capabilities," but it's not immediately clear what the impact will be in practice. Although Pepper's initial version has clear limitations, the ability for it to improve through updates and cloud-sourced data is a key aspect of its design, and Watson could help make it far better at real-time interaction than before.

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