Japan's SoftBank said Thursday that its chatty humanoid robot Pepper would go on sale this weekend, as it announced a deal with China's biggest e-commerce website Alibaba and a Taiwanese manufacturer to work on robotics technology.
The deal came as local media said Alibaba was trying to attract Chinese consumers to the wise-cracking robot, which is already being used to sell coffee machines and greet customers at a Japanese bank.
Standing 120-centimetres (four-foot) tall, the robot has a human-like face perched on top of a white plastic body, with rollers and what looks like a tablet computer on its chest.
Unveiled last year, Pepper -- which its maker says can read human emotions -- sells mobile phones at SoftBank's outlets, where it has been used to collect customers' opinions.
Engineers claim the robot's artificial intelligence can understand most conversations -- in Japanese -- and will beef up its language abilities by listening to what customers say.
Pepper goes on sale in robot-crazy Japan this weekend for 198,000 yen ($1,600).
SoftBank released few details of the deal with Taiwan's Foxconn and Alibaba -- in which it owns a one-third stake -- beyond saying both would invest in the robotics unit with each taking a 20 percent share for a combined $237 million.
Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple, said it would manufacture the robot while Alibaba disputed reports that it plans to sell the robot in China.
"There are no immediate plans for China sales, but SoftBank, Foxconn and Alibaba will possibly cooperate on this front in the future," a company spokeswoman said.