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How the cloud is revamping robotics

Cloud computing isn't just for humans - robots are getting in on the action too.

Connecting robots to the Internet reduces the need for additional hardware, enabling greater mobility and communication. Softbank's new robot, Pepper, for instance, owes its capability to read human emotions to cloud computing.

Pepper's primary goal is to make people happy to interact with it, Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of the French robotics firm Aldebaran that developed Pepper, told CNBC. Pepper uses cloud computing to share data that enhances its emotional capabilities.

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"It's very important that we gather as much data as possible to improve [Pepper's] understanding of human emotion and recognition of environments and contexts. We have algorithms and deep learning that will make him understand more and more," Maisonnier said.

While the cloud improves the robot's learning capacity, there's also an application store from which the robot can download new behaviors and information on topics including education, entertainment and health care.

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However, Marc Einstein, industry principal at ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan, noted that Pepper may not be a huge revenue generator for SoftBank at the moment. Instead, he believes the underlying story is that the Japanese company is simply looking elsewhere for investment amid a saturated domestic market.

The human-like robot called Pepper, developed by SoftBank's Aldebaran Robotics unit.
Tomohiro Ohsumi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The human-like robot called Pepper, developed by SoftBank's Aldebaran Robotics unit.

Still, he thinks Pepper's price point may be a crucial factor for the robotics industry.

"The previous robots that we've seen from NEC or Honda are upwards of $50,000 and not for sale to the public so Pepper just might be the catalyst to really bring a robotic revolution to the consumer mass market," he said.

Pepper will go on sale to the general public next year for 198,000 yen, or around $1,900.

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Cloud platforms

Europe-based RoboEarth developed Cloud Engine – a sort of Internet for robots, which contains information from navigational maps to object recognition models. Robots can upload and share their experiences and knowledge with peers, accelerating the speed of robot learning.

Singapore's A*STAR Social Robotics Laboratory (ASORO) has a similar a platform that generates 3-D models of environments that allow robots to perform simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) at a fraction of the speed of their built-in computers.

Speaking to CNBC, Dr. Yau Wei Yun, head of the robotics program, Institute for Infocomm Research at A*STAR said that cloud-based robotics can enable robots with the ability to perform new tasks that are not pre-programmed into its system.

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"In current practice, there is no sufficient computational power that can be independently placed in a robot to autonomously perform critical functions such as human recognition, emotion identification and perform common tasks such as cleaning the table, and picking up toys left by a child," he said.

Google also has a cloud-based robotics project. At its 2011 developer conference it announced that researches were working on a cloud-powered robot. In December, Google robotics researcher James Kuffner said the cloud could make robots lighter, cheaper and smarter.