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Business

SoftBank's Pepper robot faces tougher sell in Taiwan

Corporate clients want real services, not a marketing gimmick, says local agent

Perobot General Manager Vincent Lin, second from left, speaks at a robotics and artificial intelligence forum in Taipei on Sept. 9. (Photo by Jason Tan)

TAIPEI -- SoftBank Group's Pepper is popping up here and there in Japan, but it may take a bit more time for the humanoid robot to gain a foothold in Taiwan.

Perobot, the Taiwanese agent that handles sales of Pepper for the Japanese tech company on the island, said its initial target of leasing around 1,000 robots by the beginning of next year has been pushed back to late 2018. 

"Having 1,000 units is the base [needed] to build an ecosystem for Pepper in Taiwan," said Vincent Lin, Perobot's general manager, after speaking at a robotics and artificial intelligence forum on Saturday.

Corporate customers are not interested in using Pepper as a marketing gimmick. Instead, they are demanding the robot perform genuine value-added services -- taking orders, directing people to where items are in stores, briefing them on product details, even completing sales transactions, Lin said.

SoftBank brought its much-touted Pepper to Taiwan in July last year. At present, Taiwan is its only market outside Japan.

But instead of selling the devices directly to the public, as SoftBank does in Japan, Perobot offers Pepper for hire to corporate clients, leasing them on two-year contracts for 26,888 New Taiwan dollars ($894) a month.

As of August, Perobot had rented out a total of 280 robots, hoping to raise that to 500 by year's end.

In addition to early adopters, such as banks and telecom companies, Perobot is now talking to potential customers in health care, hotels and the food service industry, among others.

"A corporate [client] has to invest in applications and customer-relationship management solutions to make Pepper offer relevant services. It's not as easy as plugging Pepper into a power outlet, and it will do all the talking," Lin said.

Asked if Perobot planned to introduce Pepper into China, where cash-rich companies are racing to adopt innovative services to woo consumers, Lin said, "Relevant details will be announced when the timing is right."

Perobot is a wholly owned subsidiary of iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn. SoftBank has close ties to Taiwan, as Foxconn makes Pepper for the Japanese company.

Another Taiwanese company, Asustek Computer, unveiled its first humanoid robot on its home turf early this year. Asus Zenbo, a home-service robot meant to be a companion for children and the elderly, retails for around $660 and up. Local media have reported that Asustek plans to partner with major Chinese internet services company Tencent Holdings to market Zenbo on the mainland, starting in November.

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