SoftBank has halted production of its humanoid robot, Pepper, although that decision was not made as part of the company’s restructuring plans, according to a company spokesperson.
Earlier this month, SoftBank Robotics said it was considering a significant workforce optimisation plan.
“The restructuring project has as one of its objectives to continue to provide product sales, services support and maintenance for Pepper and NAO robots,” SoftBank Robotics said at the time.
Reuters reported yesterday that these plans entailed laying off half of the 330 employees based at its Paris headquarters, as well as half of the company’s sales team in the UK and US. The redundancies are reportedly already in process.
The report also said SoftBank stopped producing Pepper last year due to the restructuring and that it would be costly to restart that process.
When asked for comment, SoftBank Robots said the decision to halt the production of Pepper was due to the company having enough stock rather than restructuring plans.
“The Pepper business is mainly ‘rental’ and does not always need brand new Pepper. Now we have enough stock for it. The same as always, we will continue the Pepper business together with other robots such as Whiz and Servi as there is demand for Pepper today,” a SoftBank spokesperson told .
When SoftBank first offered 1,000 of its Pepper robots to the consumer market in 2015, the entire run sold out in under a minute. After its release, Pepper has been put to work at airports, banks, grocery stores, restaurants, and universities.
Since then, however, sales have dropped due to Pepper’s limited functionality and unreliability, according to Reuters.
Pepper was developed for SoftBank by Aldebaran in 2014, a French robotics company specialising in humanoids that can function in unstructured environments like homes, shops, and specialised care facilities.
SoftBank Robotics’ restructuring movements come as its parent company, SoftBank, officially sold off Boston Dynamics to Hyundai last week.