Is Brainlabs the first UK company to take on a robot receptionist at its Shoreditch HQ?

Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs with Pepper the new receptionist

Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs with Pepper the new receptionist - Credit: Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs

A Shoreditch digital media agency has taken on a robot as a receptionist.

The 4ft “humanoid” called Pepper will act as Brainlabs’ full-time receptionist at their Old Street HQ, greeting guests, making tea and coffee through wifi, and alerting staff via email when visitors arrive.

The idea to invest in the £26,000 machine was part of the company’s move to automate as many processes as possible.

Content writer John Lidiard said: “We used to have a bookkeeper accountant functioning as a receptionist, and constantly being interrupted by guests arriving, which was interrupting her doing the more interesting aspects of her job.

“As far as we are aware there’s no other UK company which has a robot performing this function.”

John feels “quite affectionate” towards the robot which is from Japanese robotics firm Softbank, and doesn’t feel silly entering into conversation with it.

“It’s quite charming, and it’s designed to be quite humerous, and also it has quite a soft voice - it’s not a classic robot voice,” he said.

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“I’ve tried asking it some difficult questions and there were some slightly evasive answers. I asked its gender - which is a hot topic in the office. It said I am a robot’, and it didn’t tackle gender.

“There’s the potential for you to ask it about the weather and it can make little jokes, but I’ve definitely seen more advanced conversational skills in other AI machines.

“It’s definitely not going to trick you into thinking it’s a human but it’s human like - its face is pretty good, its eyes are expressive and its hands move well.”

Brainlabs insists no one lost their job by taking on Pepper, and believes using automation to become more efficient has enabled it to expand.

Within five years staff numbers increased from one to 150, and it was named the fastest growing company in the UK by the Financial Times this year.

In future Brainlabs plans to use the AI assistant to manage its interview process for new hires.