Pepper robot to work in Belgian hospitals

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Pepper at the AZ Damiaan hospital in OstendImage source, AZ Damiaan hospital
Image caption,
Pepper will assist people when they arrive at hospital

Pepper, the humanoid robot programmed to "understand" human emotions, is to take a new job - as a receptionist in two Belgian hospitals.

It will be the robot's first foray into healthcare after previous deployments in shopping centres, banks and train stations.

One hospital plans to deploy more robots over the next 10 years.

Some experts have questioned the usefulness of social robots such as Pepper.

Softbank, the company behind Pepper, and partner French robotics firm Aldebaran have seen huge success with the creation, with each batch of 1,000 selling out fast in Japan.

The hospital-based robots will be significantly more expensive than the $1,850 basic model with a $34,000 (£24,000) price tag.

This will include specially designed software from Belgian firm Zora Bots, as well as access to the helpdesk should issues arise when Pepper is on duty.

The 1.2m (4ft) tall robot can recognise the human voice in 20 languages and can detect whether it is talking to a man, woman or child.

In the CHR Citadelle hospital in Liege, Pepper will remain in the reception area but, at the AZ Damiaan hospital in Ostend, it will accompany visitors to the correct department.

The Liege hospital wants to become one of the world's most futuristic over the next 10 years.

"It's about architecture, future rooms and robots, the ones we already have and the ones we're going to get," said CHR Citadelle's communication director Nathalie Evrard.

Both hospitals already use the smaller Nao robots, also made by Softbank, in both their paediatric and geriatric wards.

The little robots assist in exercise sessions and help children overcome their fears of surgery, sometimes going to the theatre with them.

Some remain sceptical about how useful Pepper can be in both homes and commercial settings, with robotics expert Prof Noel Sharkey previously telling the BBC: "It is good at conveying human-like gestures but the way it detects human emotions might be over-hyped."