Softbank's artificially intelligent robot, Pepper, has seen the first high-profile discontinuation of its use, with the diminutive Pepper having to hand in its badge at a grocery store in Scotland. Edinburgh's Margiotta Food & Wine spent a week with a Pepper unit on its payroll. According to Luisa Margiotta, the owner's daughter, the robot's performance simply did not match up to the staff's expectations. Many of the staff loved having Pepper around, who picked up the nickname Fabio during his stay, but in the end, he could not perform his job duties at the same level as a living human. Without being able to replace a human, the contract for Pepper simply was not worth the asking price, and Margiotta Food & Wine bid the little automaton adieu.
One of Pepper's key duties in the store was answering customers' questions and keeping them engaged and entertained while they shop. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence program written for Pepper by a local university was not quite up to those tasks. While Pepper did greet guests and tell jokes, its attempts at helping with finding items were entirely unhelpful because it did not have the store's inventory and layout data to refer to. It would simply tell customers the name of the section that a given item can be found in, rather than where it's located or what's nearby. When giving away samples of pulled pork, Pepper did not engage customers enough to draw them in, and many a free sample offer went ignored. The same could not be said of Pepper's human coworker doing the same thing.
This job loss could be construed as quite disappointing, since engaging humans and working with businesses are two of Pepper's primary functions, as it was created and programmed by Softbank. An upgrade that may have helped Pepper in its failed role at the grocery store was unveiled at CES 2018; a built-in chatbot framework that can use pre-programmed chatbots made in or compatible with the Microsoft Azure cloud service. Additionally, Pepper will soon be getting a dedicated front office feature that allows business owners to have Pepper react to certain clients differently, and engage customers with interactive dialogue centered around pre-written scripts.