UPDATE Pepper delayed until summer; Aldebaran execs Maisonnier and Baillie leave
UPDATED 2/23/15 Softbank announced a delay in sales of their Pepper robot from February until sometime during the summer. Aldebaran announced that CEO and Founder Bruno Maisonnier and Jean-Christophe Baillie have left Aldebaran as CEO and CSO respectively.
TOP EXECS LEAVE:
According to an Aldebaran press release today, Bruno Maisonnier has sold his remaining shares of Aldebaran to Softbank (giving Softbank 95% of the shares) and will leave the company effective March 4th. He will then be appointed Special Advisor to Masayoshi Son and SoftBank Robotics. A new Japanese CEO, Fumihide Tomizawa, will be appointed the new CEO of Aldebaran and take Maisonnier’s place.
Jean-Christophe Baillie, Aldebaran’s Chief Science Officer, left the company two weeks ago and started a new AI gaming company NovaQuark.
Neither Baillie nor Maisonnier would comment on anything to do with the change in CEOs nor the departure of the two top execs.
A French blog focused on startups, Rude Baguette, back in December, provided an preview spin to what was happening at Aldebaran and, if true, is indeed a very sad story entitled: The Sad Story of Softbank’s Aldebaran Robotics and its Emotionally Intelligent Robot.
There appears to have been a lot of spin attempting to explain the delays and executive changes up until today’s official press release about Maisonnier’s departure.
For example, according to Tech-In-Asia, an Indonesian-based tech portal for all of Asia, Softbank received far more pre-orders from developers than expected and consequently wants to focus on meeting those developers needs so that by the summer there will be many more applications for Pepper. Pepper is also scheduled to go on sale at Sprint stores in the US this summer at a price to be announced. In Japan, the selling price is 198,000 yen which converts to $1,670.
Many financial analysts got spun too and took fragments of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son’s fiscal year recap to suggest that delays might also involve the recently announced collaboration between Softbank and IBM’s cognitive computer system called Watson. Masayoshi Son said:
“[Regarding the] collaborative project with Watson and Pepper, we have started discussions with IBM, actually we have started testing. Watson and Pepper will make an interesting combination. AI will be enhanced further by combining the advanced technologies of [both].”
The Associated Press reported that SoftBank announced that it will incorporate artificial intelligence technology from IBM into its empathetic robot Pepper.
The AI engine “Watson” is already used in health care, travel and insurance services in English, but an adaptation was needed to make it work and think in Japanese, said Steve Gold, Vice President, IBM Watson Group. Unlike other cognitive technology that responds rather mechanically, Watson can learn over time like a human brain, and understands the concept of probability, which makes it sophisticated and more human-like for applications such as Pepper, according to IBM.
It’s also been reported by SoftBank that some Pepper robots will be sold this month but only to software developers who have reserved a robot. Consumers won’t be able to get a robot until sometime between June and August. Details of the sales plan were still undecided, and an announcement will be made later, Son said.
No mention was made regarding the Romeo project or the continuation of Nao robots and support of the Nao community however SoftBank has a $100 million investment in Aldebaran and will hopefully find a way to perpetuate the company and its robot products.