Aldebaran's New Nao Robot Demo

The little French humanoid has a new body and new tricks

2 min read
Aldebaran's New Nao Robot Demo

aldebaran robotics nao humanoid robot

At the IEEE Humanoids conference early this month, I met the new Nao.

The latest version of the popular humanoid robot, created by Paris-based Aldebaran Robotics, has a more robust body, longer arms, a more advanced motion engine, and a new head with improved temperature control, Wi-Fi communications, and audio input and output.

In terms of software, Aldebaran improved whole body motion controls, voice recognition, sound localization, and face and image recognition (Nao can learn to identify objects like photographs and book covers). And the robot has now a "fall manager," which detects a fall is going to happen and positions the arms and legs in a more protective posture.

To see a demo, I met with Aldebaran founder and CEO Bruno Maisonnier, who it turns out is a big geek. He told me that he was a computer enthusiast in the 1980s and ended up working in IT. But as a science fiction fan, he also loved robots and dreamed that one day they'd become part of everyone's lives -- just as computers did. He founded Aldebaran to help transform that dream into reality.

Nao was the first robot the company created. It has rapidly gained popularity as a reliable and flexible robotics research platform. It's used at universities and companies in 30 countries and also in the RoboCup competition. Aldebaran has sold 1,065 Nao units. Each costs approximately 12,000 euros.

Next year, Aldebaran plans to unveil Romeo, an adult-size humanoid designed to help elderly and disabled people with everyday tasks.

Maisonnier loves to show off the Nao. Everywhere he goes he lugs a suitcase with a Nao nestled in a custom foam insert. As you can tell from the video, the relationship between creator and creature is sometimes contentious. But in the end love prevails. Watch:

[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/qsRsrMQy64k?fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1 expand=1]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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