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:
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.