- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pizza Hut and MasterCard have teamed up to deploy Softbank’s humanoid robot “Pepper” in select restaurants in Asia by the end of the year.

The robot, showcased at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will be able to take orders, make recommendations and accept payments using MasterCard’s digital payment service, MasterPass, CNBC reported.

“Pepper can replace a digital kiosk experience, so instead of putting a bunch of tablets or display units in your restaurant, you would have the ability to put a robot in its place and have that cognitive experience,” MasterCard VP Tobias Puehse told TechCrunch. “Approach the restaurant, order some takeaway, and Pepper would take you through that ordering experience.”

Mr. Puehse said in a statement that the partnership aims to “provide customers with more memorable and personalized shopping experience beyond today’s self-service machines and kiosks.”

“Pepper has the ability to do emotional sensing,” he said. “It gets a sense of whether the consumer is happy or sad. That can help to make it engaging. Pepper would potentially adjust the ordering process for a customer who is happy or [excited]. Pepper could potentially make some jokes, etc. It actually responds to how the consumer is feeling. It’s almost like digital empathy.”

Thousands of the robots have already been sold, according to SoftBank, CNBC reported.

The news comes amid heated debate in the United States as fast food workers demand a higher minimum wage. Conservatives fear higher wages could lead to massive layoffs, with human workers being replaced by technologies similar to Pepper. Mr. Puehse insisted that Pepper would not be replacing human employees any time soon.

“This is complementing the experience. It’s not meant to replace human interaction,” he told TechCrunch. “Pepper makes transactional components of the experience more fun and engaging. You have the ability to make a more informed ordering experience than previously with a cashier, because it knows what the customer’s personal preferences are.”

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