A new developer portal and Android SDK (software developer kit) for SoftBank’s robot apps are aimed at convincing developers to build apps for the Pepper humanoid robot. Although the platform was first announced two years ago, the decision to open it up to Android apps should help greatly expand the base of app developers working on Pepper programs. “By making Pepper compatible with Android, Android application developers will be able to utilize their existing knowledge and technologies to develop RoboApps for Pepper,” the Japanese company said in a statement. “With the high number of Android developers around the world, the possibilities for Pepper RoboApp developers will greatly increase with Android support.”
SoftBank made the announcement at the Google I/O 2016 conference, SoftBank also announced that it will be opening its first U.S. office in San Francisco later this year, as part of a broader effort to bring Pepper to the U.S. market. Presales of developer models of the humanoid robot will begin in July, with a beta version of Pepper SDK for Android Studio available for download immediately. This announcement is not the only big move the company has made to support Pepper recently. Earlier this year at the CES conference in Las Vegas, SoftBank announced that it will be partnering with IBM to bring the Watson artificial intelligence platform to the Pepper platform.
SoftBank has previously tried to drum up interest among the developer community for building apps using its proprietary development tool, known as Choregraphe, but has not yet had the same success as other platforms such as Android or iOS. The company said that models that support Android apps will continue to support existing and future apps built with Choregraphe which will still be available on the developer site for anyone who wants to continue using it along with other tools allowing developers to write programs in Python or C++.
Apps will run on a tablet device mounted on the robot’s chest, according to SoftBank. Pepper runs on a proprietary Linux-based operating system known as Naoqi, originally developed by French robotics company Aldebaran. Despite the lack of interest in the development community for learning how to use a new application-building tool, Pepper has scored some significant successes. The first thousand units made available for sale in Japan sold out within minutes, despite the robot’s approximately $1,800 price tag. Several companies, such as Nestle and Nissan, have put Pepper to work in consumer environments.
Since Pepper’s initial launch, SoftBank said it has sold around 10,000 units. The company is currently selling the 4-foot-tall robot at a loss, with the goal of creating a critical mass of units in the market.