The Japanese telecommunication company Softbank has introduced a humanoid robot named “Pepper,” promising that it will be able to read and express emotions, and eventually serve as a medical worker, party companion, or even a babysitter.

Softbank is pricing Pepper as a consumer electronics must-have at 198,000 yen ($1,900) when it goes on sale in February. Taiwan’s Foxconn (a.k.a. Hon Hai) will take care of manufacturing. Details on the 48-inch (121 cm) high robot’s capabilities are scarce, and the first iteration of Pepper may end up being not much more than a humanoid curiosity.

The bug-eyed 120-centimetre (3.9-feet) tall robot may eventually take on a customer-service agent role at Softbank’s stores, Son said, adding that its “human emotions” made it a perfect fit for families in a rapidly ageing society where labour shortages loom.

Pepper can detect sadness based on your expressions and voice tones. Using built-in sensors and pre-programmed algorithms, the robot will also react appropriately.In the vein of its corporate philosophy of “happiness for everyone,” SoftBank entered the cyborg business “with the aim of developing affectionate robots that make people smile,” according to CEO Masayoshi Son.SoftBank’s robot could accessible to a fairly large group, and cost a lot less than a live-in caretaker. We’ll have to see just how versatile the robot is before declaring it a home health care alternative, but this is definitely an interesting next step in the world of home robotics.

At a launch event, Bruno Maisonnier, Founder and CEO of Aldebaran — which Softbank already held a stake in — said: “For the past nine years, I’ve believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow. The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology. It’s just the beginning, but already a promising reality.”