A Robot Called Pepper Can Teach Visitors Swahili at the Smithsonian

Pepper the Robot at the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City
Pepper the Robot at the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City
Brian Ach, Getty Images for The New Yorker

"Hakuna matata" may very well be the only Swahili phrase that many people outside of East Africa have ever heard (thanks, Lion King), but a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot named Pepper is working to change that.

The National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.—part of the Smithsonian Institution's network—is using Pepper to explain the meaning of Swahili words and phrases that appear in its artworks. The Smithsonian says it's the first museum complex in the world to use this particular robot, which was developed by SoftBank Robotics in 2014, made available to Japanese consumers in 2015, and later released to a wider market.

Considered to be the world's first robot capable of reading emotions, Pepper is multi-talented. He has already found a home in several different Smithsonian sites, where he interacts with visitors, answers questions, plays games, tells stories, and even dances.

Pepper the Robot talks to children at the National Museum of African Art
Courtesy of Smithsonian

For the Museum of African Art's new exhibition on Swahili arts, which opens on May 9, Pepper will be tasked with helping visitors better understand the ways in which African art influences global culture, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

"Proverbs and words are so important in African art and in the context of the culture, so having Pepper reinforce those ideals is so valuable," Michelle Edwards, the museum coordinator who wrote the robot's script, told the magazine.

Swahili is spoken on the east coast of Africa, and it's a lingua franca—or bridge language—in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, and Uganda. The language was greatly influenced by the region's contact with Arabic-speaking traders over several centuries and contains many loan words from Arabic. Even the word swahili itself comes from the Arabic sawahili, meaning "of the coast." Today, it has between 100 and 140 million speakers around the world.

Training Pepper to speak Swahili correctly, though, was no easy feat. Edwards reportedly spent weeks trying to get the pronunciation just right.

SoftBank, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian, donated about 30 robots to its network of museums. In addition to the African Art Museum, Peppers are peppered throughout several other Smithsonian sites, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Castle, and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Outside of the U.S., Peppers have taken over Belgian hospitals (as receptionists), Japanese funerals (as Buddhist priests), and even a Scottish grocery store (although, after a week, he was relieved of his duties as a customer liaison due to being generally unhelpful).

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]

Mickey Mouse Is Getting His Own Beats By Dre Headphones

Beats, Amazon
Beats, Amazon

Since debuting in a black-and-white cartoon in 1928, Mickey Mouse has grown into an icon recognized around the world. To celebrate the character's 90th birthday, Beats by Dre has designed him his very own pair of Solo3s, The Verge reports.

The special-edition, wireless headphones depict a pattern of classic Mickeys against a gray background. They come in a gray felt carrying case—a nod to the material used to make the Mickey Mouse ears sold at Disney parks. The purchase also includes an enamel pin and decal sticker commemorating the anniversary.

At $329.95, the Mickey headphones cost about $30 more than conventional Solo3 headphones, but it's not unusual for Beats to charge extra for limited-edition designs. In 2014, the company released Hello Kitty Solo2s for the character's 40th anniversary for $50 more than the headphones' standard selling price.

The Mickey Beats will be available starting November 11—a few days before the 90th anniversary of the premiere of Steamboat Willie. You can pre-order them on Amazon today.

[h/t The Verge]

This Smart Mug Alerts You When You've Had Too Much Caffeine

Ember
Ember

Since 2010, Ember has been giving perfectionists ultimate control over their morning coffee. Their travel mug lets you set the preferred temperature of your drink down to the degree when you're on the go, and their ceramic cup allows you to do the same in the office or at home. Now, in addition to telling you how hot your beverage is at all times, Ember lets you know how much caffeine you're consuming through Apple's Health app, CNET reports.

Ember's new feature takes advantage of the same Bluetooth technology that lets you control the temperature of you drink from your smartphone. Beginning October 17, you can connect your Ember vessel to your Apple device to keep track of what you're drinking. If you drink all your tea and coffee from an Ember mug, the Health app should be able to give you a rough estimate of your daily caffeine intake.

Ember wasn't originally designed to measure caffeine content, but its built-in sensors allow it do so. In order to maintain a constant temperature, the mug needs to know whether it's full or empty, and exactly how much liquid it's holding at any given time. The feature also gives you the option to preset your serving size within the app if you drink the same amount of coffee everyday. And if you like to drink specific beverages at their recommended temperatures, the mug can guess what type of drink it's holding based on how hot it is.

The new caffeine-calculating feature from Ember is especially useful for coffee addicts: If the mug senses you've exceeded your recommended caffeine intake for the day, it will alert you on your phone. Here are some energizing caffeine alternatives to keep that from happening.

[h/t CNET]

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