We may have to say farewell to SoftBank's adorable humanoid robot Pepper. According to Reuters, the Japanese conglomerate has stopped the robot's production last year and is slashing jobs across robotics-related businesses in several countries. Apparently, there wasn't much demand for Pepper, and SoftBank only ever produced 27,000 units manufactured by Foxconn.
Nikkei has also reported that Pepper's production was halted due to weak demand, but the SoftBank rep it talked to denied that the company is killing the robot entirely. "We plan to resume production if demand recovers," the spokesperson said.
While Pepper sold out in under a minute when it was released in Japan in 2015, the company only produced 1,000 machines for its consumer launch. Pepper was built as a social robot that can recognize faces and basic human emotions, so it can interact with people. Most of the units SoftBank produced are leased to corporate clients, and the company also placed the robot in its mobile phone stores in Japan.
With a price of over $1,600 for consumers in Japan and of over $20,000 for universities and businesses, though, Pepper a bit too expensive for most developers and small businesses. Reuters' sources said its sales suffered from limited functionality and unreliability. Further, SoftBank wasn't able to give the robot more features, because culture clashes between its French business in charge of robotics projects and its Tokyo management reportedly affected Pepper's development.
After SoftBank shifted its focus to the cleaning robot Whiz, Pepper was sidelined. The company plans to cut about half of its 330 staff positions in France in September, Reuters said, and half of the sales staff positions in the US and Britain had already been cut.
Update (07/01/21 7AM): A SoftBank representative told us that Pepper costs above $20,000 for universities and businesses. The $1,600 pricing is only for Japanese consumers and comes with a monthly subscription for data and insurances, as well as a commitment of 36 months.