If you're planning on braving the crowds to visit a physical mall during the holiday shopping season, you might get a surprise visit from Pepper, the humanoid robot that has previously graced hospitals and Japanese Pizza Hut restaurants.
Several Pepper robots will be taking up residence at two California shopping malls in December to help shoppers find their way to stores. Armed with built-in maps of the Westfield San Francisco Centre and Westfield Valley Fair, the robots will greet shoppers and provide directions via a custom map interface on the Android tablets built into their torsos.
Once the shopping is over, you can ask the 4-foot-tall Pepper to take a selfie or play a game, and in return she'll ask you to complete a short survey about your robot-assisted shopping experience.
Pepper is the brainchild of Japanese tech giant SoftBank, which has devised multiple trials around the world to get developers interested in writing custom apps for the Android-based robot. The shopping mall experiment is Pepper's first exposure to a busy American retail setting, which will likely stretch the limits of the robot's ability to understand spoken instructions from humans.
PCMag visited Pepper when she made a temporary appearance at a futuristic consumer technology store in Palo Alto this past summer. There, executives talked up her ability to serve as an open platform for developers—a sort of humanoid version of Amazon's Alexa.
The first 1,000 Pepper robots went on sale in Japan last summer. Although Pepper's asking price there is around $1,700, Softbank doesn't have any immediate plans to sell Pepper to US consumers, instead focusing on shopping malls and other commercial settings.