Elise D.

Pepper App Challenge & Pepper Innovation Challenge: Application development in Japan

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November 28th, Belle salle event hall in Tokyo Shibuya district, hundreds of people gathered to attend the finals of the Pepper App Challenge and the Pepper Innovation Challenge: close-up on a major developer event.

After a successful first edition in February, Softbank Robotics launched both events on September 18, 2015. Developers had until October 31st to submit their applications to one of the challenges.
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The first contest, the Pepper App Challenge, was designed for the consumer market. Since June 2015, Japanese families have been living with Pepper in their homes. The challenge here for the developers was to figure out how to enhance this experience and to imagine applications that would perfectly serve family life with Pepper.

The second contest, the Pepper Innovation Challenge, focuses on business applications for Pepper. Starting with Softbank Mobile stores, Pepper has already been deployed in Japan in many shops. Nestlé, Loft and Mizuho Bank have all chosen to integrate Pepper in the heart of their business strategy. However there are many new uses cases to imagine in many different fields which represented the core of the Innovation Challenge.

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First hackathon held at Akihabara Atelier from September 5th to 10th. Photo: Atelier Akihabara

During September and October, Softbank and the Atelier Akihabara organized different events related to the Challenges to support and encourage the development process. Hackathons and ideathons were held at the Atelier to imagine new application ideas and concepts. An “oversized hackathon” event was even organized in partnerships with Mashup Awards, gathering more than 60 developers during two days. Technical Q&A meetings as well as free sessions were planned to follow-up with the teams.

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On November 28th, a total of 263 applications had been submitted, 180 in the Pepper App Challenge and 83 in the Innovation Challenge. Among them, 10 projects were selected by Softbank, in each category, to participate in the finals. As a result, a total of 20 teams showcased their work to people in the Belle Salle Event Hall at the end of November. Teams had the opportunity to demonstrate, explain and answer questions on their projects in front of the jury.

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Before announcing the winning teams, the Softbank Robotics team made some announcements in the form of an opening keynote. Kenichi Yoshida, VP Business Development, explained the main events around Pepper the past 10 months in Japan. He also introduced Pepper for Biz, a turnkey CMS solution for Pepper apps development. Intended for companies with limited resources. The application incorporates service templates (reception, customer service or free template), interaction analysis data and support.

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Pepper4Biz solution gives access to easy-to-use templates and analytics through a web interface and on Pepper

Yoshida also announced the Pepper Partner Program, to be launched on December 1, 2015. Three partner labels were introduced: “Robo App Partner”, “Consulting Partner” and “Design Partner”. Over 200 companies have already applied to be partners with 60 companies already succeeding and being the first to obtain the first label and get business support from Softbank Robotics.

Next, the deployment of Akihabara Atelier Satellites in the rest of Japan was mentioned. Starting December 8th, developers in different Japanese cities will be able to gather and organize workshops around Pepper development.
 
Last but not least, the final ceremony awarded 5 teams in each Challenge. The grand prizes were decided by a combined vote of the Jury and visitors. For the Pepper App Challenge, the following teams and projects were awarded

The Best App Winner was the HUG Project team. Combining robotics and virtual reality, they turned Pepper into a robotic avatar to allow users to experience events they were not able to be a part of. They showcased in their demonstration video where a bedridden grandmother was able to attend her grandson’s wedding through Pepper’s eyes and physical presence. The award came with a one million yen prize (7,500€) and future help from Softbank to develop the application further. The team also won the Best Care Award.

Best Interaction Award was attributed to G-Angle team and their application “Virtual English Environment”. To enhance english speaking skills, Pepper was programmed to gradually speak in english at various time of the day. The idea was to provide a “non-formal” learning frame and help practice English with small talks at home. This award as well as the others were awarded a 100,000 ¥ prize (750€).

The Best Entertainment prize was awarded to Uber-Inovations@ App Frontier team. Their application, named “Kataribe”,  turned Pepper into the perfect storyteller. The robot reads out stories, combined with background music, gestures, images and text on his tablet. The application also allows its user to imagine and customize his own story.

The Best Lifestyle Award was won by BOB team who developed “Pepper Personal Trainer”. Combining the robot with their Fitbit device, the turned Pepper into a personal fitness coach who monitors the user activity, motivates them and helps them to carry out their daily training.

On the Pepper Innovation Challenge side, five awards were also distributed.

The Best App Award was attributed to Team Smart Brain. They developed a “brain gymnastics” application for the elderly. Leading differents mental exercises and games, Pepper is able stimulate seniors’ minds. Thanks to a recognition application, the robot can also track their progress and adapt exercises.

The Best Business Hospitality prize was awarded to Air Wait with their adapted queue management solution for Pepper. Displaying the existing app on his tablet, Pepper inform the line of people their wait time, prints them a coupon and notifies them when their number of called.

The Best Healthcare Award was won by Joysound Team who created a care facilities application. Pepper took the role of a easy level gymnast coach for seniors, providing exercises and entertainment like karaoke singalongs.

The Best Customer Experience was attributed to Fubright Communication (フューブライト・コミュニケーションズ株式会社) and their app  PepaDen for Biz (ペパ電 for Biz). The team turned Pepper into a phone allowing visitors to reach out with their appointments and inform them of their arrival.

Finally, the Best Technology prize was awarded to the Eviry (チームエビリー) team for their Vipper digital store application. Using different API, the app aims to use Pepper to analyze people's reactions to different videos in order to choose and personalize the next viewing videos, according to previous reactions.

For its second edition, the Challenge was a real success. Developers have been showing a lot of interest for Pepper and application creation in the last couple of months. We also saw a gradual shift from tablet-centric applications to more “complete” applications, fully exploiting the potential of the robot.

It is easy to see the strong cultural influence in many of the applications created. For instance, seniors healthcare development is a national focus. Robotics has become one of the answers to an aging population and a growing number of seniors in Japan. Many developers chose to focus on healthcare applications, which was a topic supported by Softbank, as one of the hackathon themes was “Care and Welfare”. Other applications, like the queue management system, was also a result of general country needs. In this case, the application was simply an adaptation from the tablet version focused version to one implementing more features of Pepper. Developers have to make sure there is a real added value in the robot’s presence. If they feel like adapting their product to Pepper, they need to imagine the possibilities offered by all Pepper’s features.

In a more global way, SoftBank has understood the need to support and encourage the application development process through events like these Challenges. Ideally these events will later be duplicated across the global in order to excite and encourage more developer communities to create interesting and beneficial applications on Pepper.

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