Tokyo (AFP)

SoftBank Group has suspended production of its humanoid robot Pepper, which was an emblem of the group a few years ago, and a restructuring is underway in France at SoftBank Robotics Europe, AFP learned on Tuesday.

"Since August 2020, we have temporarily suspended production of Pepper but we are ready to restart it at any time, depending on the level of stocks" and demand, told AFP a spokeswoman for SoftBank Group, confirming press information.

“Pepper is basically operating as a rental service, so we don't need a lot of new units,” she added.

It did not wish to disclose the number of Pepper units put into service worldwide since its commercial launch in 2014.

Designed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics, acquired by SoftBank Group in 2012 and later integrated into its subsidiary SoftBank Robotics, Pepper is a 120 cm tall talkative robot, supposed to express emotions with its eyes and interact with humans with its touch screen. .

In Japan it is not uncommon to see him in the reception areas of stores, where he is supposed to offer information.

But it is generally little used by visitors, tending rather to serve as a decorative gadget.

It is also sometimes experimented with in a hospital environment, to fight against the isolation of patients.

SoftBank Group had once made Pepper its real mascot, to symbolize its strategy of massive investments in new technologies.

The group continues to invest heavily in artificial intelligence companies around the world, but appears to be putting the brakes on companion robots in favor of digital platforms.

At the end of 2020, SoftBank Group had sold to the South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor 80% of its shares in the American company Boston Dynamics, a global specialist in ultra-mobile robots for handling work, for example.

The production of other Softbank Robotics models (including Nao and the Whiz robot vacuum) is not suspended, said the spokesperson for SoftBank Group.

Workforce reductions are being negotiated within SoftBank Robotics Europe, headquartered in Paris and employing around 330 people, she added, without revealing the extent of the planned cuts.

Softbank Robotics has already reduced the size of its teams in the United Kingdom and the United States, "but it will take time to reach an agreement in France" she further explained.

In Japan too, the staff of SoftBank Robotics has been reduced but without resorting to layoffs, via a transfer of employees to other divisions of the group, according to the same source.

© 2021 AFP