Here in the US, telecom giants like Verizon and AT&T fight for their share of customer data plans. But Japan's own telecom outfits are embroiled in an additional head-to-head: selling robots.
Yesterday, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) — Japan's biggest carrier — announced that it's launching a service that lets a small, talking robot interact with other smart objects in your home. Named Sota, Nikkei Asian Review reports that the bot will be helping in elderly care facilities at first, beginning next March. One of Sota's powers is dimming the lights in a room to relax you, and then taking your blood pressure.
The announcement comes at a time when SoftBank — owner of Sprint, and one of NTT's main competitors — is pimping its own blabbing 'bot, an emotions-reading machine named Pepper, developed by French robotics company Aldebaran. Pepper went on sale last month, and the first batch sold out within one minute.
— Mashable (@mashable) July 29, 2015
Sota is smaller and cheaper than Pepper, sitting on your desk rather than cruising your workplace or apartment like Pepper does. Sota stands less than a foot high and costs around $1,095, while Pepper is four feet tall and retails for about $2,190.
But it's still clearly a throw down: Earlier this year, NTT revealed a separate robot: the sheep-like "OHaNAS," yet another conversant robot. It's designed for kids and forecasts the weather and tells fortunes.
Softbank, meanwhile, has launched its own robotics division. It hopes to bring more humanoid robots to humans, and nabbed $323 million in funding last month from Chinese tech behemoths Alibaba and Foxconn. So, lots of money and lots of competition — which means lots of robots.
Here in the US, it's hard to imagine Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint making robots, but it makes sense: In theory, a robot could be the cloud-connecting Charon that ushers us into the Internet of Things. And in Japan, since the consumer bases of NTT and SoftBank are so large, as Nikkei points out, we'll likely see home robots take off there way sooner than they will here, where robotics tend to veer a bit more industrial.
Who knows, though — maybe the next Verizon Guy will be an android.
Top image via YouTube