Pepper Has a New Pandemic Skill

Pepper is one of the best known of all real-world robots. The cute humanoid has worked as a hostess, a butler, a greeter (after all, she speaks 15 languages), and a caregiver’s helper. Now she’s developed a new skill that makes her even more valuable: she can tell who is going without a face mask.

In many countries and even some states, face masks are required for people in public places. The United States has had more than three million cases of COVID-19 now, and new or returning restrictions are becoming more common.

But there are problems with asking humans to enforce mask requirements. Retail workers don’t have training to enforce these requirements, and arguably shouldn’t have this task added to their job descriptions. Cases of confrontational mask-refusers have made headlines and gone viral on social media. Some customers have even become violent.

One retailers union claims that 70% of its members say their stores aren’t enforcing the regulations.

Enter Pepper

Pepper is a robot designed and programmed to interact with human beings. She can identify emotions and change her behavior in response. But she’s not intimidated by angry people, and won’t suffer traumatic reactions  to verbal or even physical violence.

Pepper can scan up to five faces at a time, and ask people who are not wearing masks to put them on. She can give masks to those who don’t have one, and thank people for wearing their masks.

Pepper can do all these things without fear of exposure to the virus, too.

It’s a logical extension of the benefits of automation. For decades, automation has helped keep people out of dangerous environments. Whether the danger is caustic chemicals or a new virus, machines can do jobs that people would otherwise have to do.

The people who don’t have to do those jobs are safer because of automation.

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