The newest addition to America's clothing stores could be a whirring, humanoid robot with an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion.
Four-foot tall robots with these capabilities, sold under the name Pepper, drew big crowds at the National Retail Federation's annual convention Tuesday. Pepper, being sold as the world's first robot that can understand and react to human emotions, was created by Japan's SoftBank, with its first batch selling out within a minute last June.
One of the main advertised uses of the "humanoid robots" is to work in stores, with Peppers already helping customers in Carrefour supermarkets in Europe and cafes and banks in Japan.
Mike Rogero, the COO and CFO at RobotsLab and founder of CurveTips, a shopping app that runs on service robots, told BuzzFeed News that a fashion maven version of Pepper could make it to U.S. stores later this year.
"We're just waiting for the robot, we need SoftBank to sell them in the U.S.," Rogero said while demonstrating Pepper's skills today in New York.
Rogero scanned QR codes of jackets and dresses in front of Pepper, who brought them up on her attached tablet and discussed how each garment is designed to fall on the body and what areas it can emphasize and camouflage. She gestured the way a human would at words like "waist" and "arms," and after a couple of sentences, asked whether or not to continue, which was polite of her.
(Rogero repeatedly used "she" to refer to Pepper. SoftBank's Aldebaran subsidiary says on its website that it believes robots have no gender, but added "depending on where you come from, people project Pepper to be a male or a female!")
When asked if Pepper might replace actual humans on sales floors, Rogero said the idea is that Pepper could instead "team up" with existing staff.
But there's a lot Pepper can do that humans can't. With CurveTips running on Pepper, shoppers can opt into personalized body-type recommendations from the robot and follow-up emails and text messages after they leave. They can also speak with Pepper in eight different languages.
Rogero said the software will use a commission model so that Pepper will only get paid for sales she generates.
Keep your eye out for Pepper, everyone — perhaps coming to a mall near you.