SoftBank’s humanoid robot “Pepper” is now available to hire as a Buddhist priest for funerals in Japan, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Nissei Eco Co., an unlisted plastic molding maker, showcased Pepper’s latest capabilities at a funeral industry fair – the Life Ending Industry Expo – in Tokyo this week. Pepper’s new code, which was written by Nissei, will let it chant sutras in a computerized voice while tapping a drum, providing a cheaper alternative to a human priest.
With Japan’s population ageing and shrinking, many Buddhist priests receive less financial support from their communities, prompting some to find part-time work outside their temple duties, said Michio Inamura, Nissei’s executive adviser.
The funeral robot could step in when a priest was not available, he added. Pepper’s services are also much cheaper than the traditional alternative, costing just 50,000 yen (about $450) per funeral compared to more than 240,000 yen ($2,200) for a human priest.
Funeral arrangers also have the option to deck Pepper out in the robe of a Buddhist monk, and can even live-stream the ceremony to those who can’t attend the funeral in person.
Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo said he came to the expo to see if Pepper could “impart the ‘heart’ aspect to a machine,” because he believes that the ‘heart’ is the foundation of religion.
The robot has not yet been hired for a funeral.