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How this robocop reminds you to wear a mask

Nicolas Halftermeyer, SoftBank Robotics Product Branding & Communications Director, joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to demonstrate how robots are being used to remind others to wear masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: As we've been highlighting, a lot of scientific evidence out there has been supporting the idea of wearing masks to help control the coronavirus pandemic. Some saying it might actually be more effective than whatever vaccine could come to fruition. But politics has played a role in that, and we've seen some people push back on the idea of wearing a mask.

So how can you enforce it? Well, maybe we should be turning to robots. Of course, robots can't have a political party-- at least, not yet. They also-- you know, you can't hate a robot-- at least, not yet. I don't hate any that I've seen. So why not turn to robots to try and help enforce mask mandates and ensure people are wearing them? That's at least what SoftBank Robotics is doing.

And here to join us with their robot, Pepper, to show how that software is helping people wear their masks, is Nicholas Halftermeyer, the SoftBank Robotics product branding and communications director, along with Pepper. And Nicholas, thanks for coming on to do a live demo here for how this might work. Talk to us about how it works to get people wear to masks.

NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: Hello, Zack. Thank you for welcoming us. Well, as you can see, I'm in Paris with Pepper the robot. And he has just detected that I'm not wearing a mask. So I will try to put the mask on to see his reaction. Now, Pepper--

PEPPER: You forgot to wear a mask. Please maintain social distancing. Thank you for having put your mask back on.

NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: I will, Pepper. Can you please introduce yourself to Zack? Can you please introduce yourself to Zack? He doesn't want to introduce himself.


Pepper, how can you know if I am wearing a mask? How do you know when I'm-- because I am wearing a mask?

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, I don't think--

NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: What's happening here is he is looking at me with all its sensors and cameras.


NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: And he will display a mark here-- a green mark if I'm wearing a mask, or red mark if I'm not wearing a mask. So as you can understand, there's a lot of computation algorithms behind this and artificial intelligence--

PEPPER: You shouldn't remove your mask.

NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: Yeah, very true that, Pepper.

ZACK GUZMAN: There you go, it's working right now trying to tell you to wear your mask. I mean, where have you seen-- obviously, there's a lot of places where something like this could work. Where have you seen kind of the idea that this could be deployed? You could put Pepper in a mall, I assume, or somewhere where she can walk around and scan?

NICHOLAS HALFTERMEYER: That's a good question, Zack. We did test Pepper in a mall just a few weeks ago. And now, the first deployment is live in Germany at Edeka supermarket stores. So Pepper is helping to make social distancing a reality, and reminding every shopper to wear a mask. So as you see, it is a very nimble and polite product. So it's not like a cop is asking you to wear a mask.

So most people relax, then, talking to the robot and getting feedback. So we can foresee a lot of uses like this one. Not yet in the United States, but in Europe it's becoming a reality like in the Athens, or Amsterdam, or Bologna airports, for instance. So it's just a start, basically. Unfortunately, here we are in the second peak of the COVID-19 crisis, so robots are going to play a role in that.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, it's very interesting. We talked about doing it with scanning the faces of five people at once to make sure they are wearing their masks. As we've talked about, there are political ramifications here and complexities to all this, but made a little bit simpler when it's a nice robot like Pepper is doing. But Nicholas Halftermeyer, I appreciate you joining us here to bring us that technology.