“Pepper,” a chipper, waist-high humanoid that resembles a sort of hairless Betty Boop, uses facial expressions and tone of voice as cues to sell you stuff that, conveniently, it can load on its chest tablet, and Nestlé Japan has purchased 1,000 of them for an undisclosed sum to man the espresso-machine sales counters very soon at appliance stores. They first debut in December, so shoppers can look forward to an army of salesbots that understand “70 to 80 percent of spontaneous conversations” and can tell you what kind of coffee you should drink and how you should make it.
French-designed and Taiwanese-made, Pepper gesticulates, blinks, and wheels about on rollers. She also knows everything about the Dolce Gusto coffeemaker.
Looks thrilling. Of course, if Pepper ends up anything like the sales-associate version of its buddy the Nepsresso coffee-making automaton, the robot-coffee front future really is dim. Still, a barista that picks up on 70 to 80 percent of what you’re saying sounds like an improvement on our current situation, if only because you know there’s a marginally better chance the robot’s going to get your name right.