Robots are helpful in the back of the house at restaurants, but they’re so bad at being servers, China fired all its robot waiters. But hope springs eternal, and SoftBank and Pizza Hut are hoping a robot named Pepper will succeed where others have failed.
Pepper is an interesting experiment in consumer robotics. SoftBank, best known as a Japanese mobile network provider and creator of adorable commercials starring dogs, created Pepper to be an “empathic” robot. It’s not really a domestic robot, more of a digital buddy to help introverted people open up a bit. In theory, Pepper can read your moods and nudge you to, say, talk to somebody instead of standing in the corner with your phone.
Pizza Hut is hoping that Pepper’s empathic design and cheerful demeanor will make it a good cashier, so it’s hiring Pepper to handle some payments in a selected number of Pizza Hut Asia restaurants. Pepper will be the face of MasterCard’s MasterPass digital wallet, and customers paying that way can enjoy the perks of talking to the adorable robot. The main question, beyond whether Pepper can effectively talk people out of their money, is how people will take to a robot cashier. Japan is generally more receptive to robots than other cultures, but even they have limits; if Pepper is unnervingly cheery, or reads their mood incorrectly, it might not go well. Similarly, a plan to have it remember your personal preferences might backfire, in the sense that you probably don’t want a robot to remind you how often you eat pizza.
If you were wondering what happened to the human cashier, and if this is another robotic attempt to steal our fast-food jobs, don’t be. Pizza Hut is trying to make buying a pizza from them a more novel experience. Besides, if nothing else, it might make ordering a double meat lover’s slightly less awkward. That’s because Pepper lacks the ability to silently judge you (for now).