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"Pepper" the robot has a new job

TOKYO -- The Japanese robot "Pepper" has been programmed to perform a new role: funeral services for Buddhists.

SoftBank's humanoid robot "Pepper," featured last month on "CBSN: On Assignment," was on display at a funeral fair in Tokyo on Wednesday tapping on a drum and chanting sutras in a computerized voice, Reuters news agency reports. Nissei Eco Co. wrote the chanting software for the robot.

Japan is facing a population collapse because humans aren't having enough babies. The country has one of the world's lowest birthrates. Now, the world's third largest economy is looking to diminish the human population by introducing robots to move and act just like humans do.

Tomomi Ota, one of early adopters of Pepper, told CBS News last month that she had grown attached to her robot.

Japan's population is plunging -- can they fill the void with robots?

"Obviously there are hundreds of Peppers just like this one," she said. "And I suppose they all have similar characters. There's a personality that exists only in this Pepper. And I feel this Pepper's personality is somehow connected to me."

As the population continues to shrink, many Buddhist priests tend to receive less financial support from their communities, according to Reuters. Some are forced to find part-time work outside of their temple duties. That's where Pepper comes in to play -- the funeral robot could act as priest when a human is not available.

Nissei's executive adviser, Michio Inamura, says using a robot priest would cost about $450 per funeral. A human priest charges around $2,200 per service.

Pepper has yet to be hired for a funeral.


Japan's robot revolution was explored during "CBSN: On Assignment" -- a primetime documentary series that aired on CBS and CBSN, the network's 24/7 streaming news service.