Nissei Eco Co., a plastic molding company, wrote the program which debuted at Wednesday's Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo. Pepper can now be activated to chant sutras while banging a small drum. This marks only the latest in a long line of vocations the Pepper robot has tried a hand at, including waiting tables, store greeting, marketing, and home companionship.
During the expo, a priest by the name of Tetsugi Matsuo went to inspect Pepper to see if it could “impart the ‘heart’ aspect” of religion. "I believe that the ‘heart’ is the foundation of religion,” he told Reuters. It does not appear he has come to any final decision regarding the topic at this point in time.
According to Nissei Eco's executive adviser, Michio Inamura, the idea for this program came from Japan's declining birth rate and national population. With fewer elderly people still alive in the country, local Buddhist priests are not seeing the same kind of business when it comes to temple visitation or support as in previous years. This has caused many to travel outside their communities to find additional part-time work besides their regular duties at a temple.
If someone were to die while a priest was away, then, it would leave the community in need of a replacement. This is what Pepper's new program is meant to account for. Not only that, it happens to be more affordable than a human alternative. Hiring Pepper only costs 50,000 yen per service, while human priests typically charge around 240,000 yen.
Despite this fact and Pepper's undeniable cuteness, the robot has yet to be hired to perform funeral rights.