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Technology

At SoftBank cafe in Tokyo, Pepper the robot will take your order

Company opens cafe in Shibuya staffed with humanoid robots

At Pepper Parlor, robots take orders, make small talk with customers and clean up after closing time.

TOKYO -- Soon the Japanese capital's trendsetting Shibuya district will boast a cafe staffed by humanoid robots that can recommend perfect desserts for customers.

SoftBank Robotics on Tuesday unveiled to the press its directly run Pepper Parlor cafe, where robots take orders, engage in small talk with customers and clean up among other tasks.

Customers place orders through Pepper robots placed near the entrance. They will also help customers decide what dessert to order based on the facial expression of a customer.

"Let me recommend a waffle that is perfect for you," a robot told one customer. "Let me see your face. Hmm, you look a bit tired today."

Peppers are also placed in the seating area and converse with customers or play games with them. SoftBank Robotics' Whiz robots do the cleaning after the cafe closes.

The restaurant, located at the Tokyu Plaza Shibuya, will open to the public Thursday. SoftBank Group's robotics unit will use know-how gleaned from running the cafe to improve its technology and apply it to other businesses.

Pepper robots will talk to customers and play games with them.

"We will be able to build know-how by managing the store on our own instead of relying on a partner business," said Director Kazutaka Hasumi. "That way we will be able to propose functions that companies want in robots."

Pepper robots are in their fifth year since their 2014 debut. Companies rushed to purchase the wide-eyed robot out of curiosity, but with robots and artificial intelligence becoming increasingly common, all eyes are on whether Pepper can truly contribute to corporate operations.

While the company keeps a tight lid on the exact number of robots they have delivered, it is estimated that 3,000 to 3,500 companies own them. Pepper has been receiving some communication training. "Up until now, Pepper was required to be funny and spoke like a standup comedian. This time, Pepper has acquired the skills to make small talk and react quickly to what the customer is saying," Hasumi said.

The cafe will double as a laboratory for the company's latest robots, testing their abilities in real-life situations. "There are many scenes where robots can help, be it delivering food to the table, or taking out garbage or educating others. We want to share the findings from here with our client companies," he said.

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