Pepper the robot can politely suggest you wear a damn mask

SoftBank Robotics Europe hopes the robot will help businesses reopen safely.

SoftBank Robotics Europe

We’ve seen Pepper, the cutesy robotic butler, provide customer service, offer info at train stations, sell smartphones and take your Pizza Hut order. Now, Pepper has a new public health mission. The humanoid is scanning faces to determine whether people are wearing masks.

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, countries like France are requiring people over the age of 11 to wear masks in closed public places. Other European countries have similar rules, so SoftBank Robotics Europe is rolling out a new free update that allows Pepper to detect face masks.

Using an image recognition AI and Single Shot Detector, Pepper can scan the faces of up to five people at once. On Pepper’s tablet, a green circle will appear around an image of anyone wearing a mask, and a red circle will appear around the image of anyone without a mask. Pepper can thank people for wearing masks or remind someone to put a face covering on.

According to SoftBank Robotics Europe, no personal data is used or stored, and the system works with masks that have complex patterns and color schemes. Pepper will provide daily analytics, like the percentage of people complying with mask requirements.

This isn’t the first use of Pepper in the coronavirus-affected world. Pepper and fellow bot Spot will perform at spectatorless baseball games in Japan.

SoftBank hopes Pepper’s newest capabilities will help businesses as they begin to reopen. While Pepper’s previous tasks have been somewhat cutesy, helping businesses enforce face mask rules could give the robot a new level of responsibility. It’s also good to see that the now five-year-old robot is still receiving updates.