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Nao could usher in the age of social humanoid robots that are designed to live and work with humans. Aldebaran Robotics, a French company owned by Japan’s SoftBank, has created five versions of the robots in the last nine years with this dream in mind.
Nao is a cute and friendly robot aimed at creating warm and fuzzy feelings. It costs a lot less than it once did, but is still pricey at around $7,000 to $8,000. I got a good look at the robot at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in San Francisco yesterday. Among its tricks: He performed Tai chi exercises in a way that showed off his flexible joints, he got up from a squatting position, and he picked himself up once he was pushed on the ground.
Paris-based Aldebaran isn’t selling Nao directly to consumers yet. That’s coming in the next year or so. But it is exploring applications for schools and universities, such as helping children with autism through interactive games and apps. SoftBank is using a different version, dubbed Pepper, to improve the customer experience at its SoftBank mobile stores in Japan.
“He’s not going to be able to open the fridge and get you a beer,” said Laura Bokobza, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Aldebaran Robotics in an interview with VentureBeat. “But we do believe he will be a good companion robot. They will be helpers in a different sense. They may remind you it’s your anniversary today.”
Nao is a 58-centimeter tall robot that can be easily told what to do using an object-oriented program on a computer. Using the NAOqi middleware software, you can tell him how to use his sensors, motors, and brain. As such, the robot is a good way to introduce children to programming, Bokobza said. More sophisticated programmers can look at the underlying code and efficiently choreograph a bunch of complex tasks. Over time, Nao can evolve with upgraded software. The software is proprietary, but it is based on a version of Linux.
Nao was first created in 2006. He’s a lot more sophisticated now, and he costs a lot less. You can ask him to do something and he’ll do it. You can ask him to teach multiplication tables to your kids, wake you up in the morning, monitor your home in the day, or teach you new things.
“I have a child, and I think of Nao as providing a buffer memory for myself,” Bokobza said. “I travel a lot, and he may remind me of what my child is doing while I’m far away.”
His body has 25 degrees of freedom, thanks to a bunch of electric motors and actuators. He has two cameras that capture video at 30 frames per second, four directional microphones, a sonar range finder, two infrared emitters and receivers, an inertial board, nine tactile sensors, and eight pressure sensors. Nao runs on an Intel Atom central processing unit (CPU) that operates at 1.6 gigahertz. There’s a second CPU in the torso. It has a 48.6-watt-hour battery that provides Nao with about 90 minutes to two hours of operation.
His motion module uses inverse kinematics, which means he has good joint control, balance, and task priority. He has Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity.
SoftBank acquired 78 percent of Aldebaran in 2012, and the company itself was founded in 2005. Over time, robots like Nao may be a fixture in every home, Bokobza said. There’s competition out there from the likes of Honda’s Asimo robot and Intel’s Jimmy the 21st Century Robot.
“It’s becoming more and more accessible for the home,” she said.
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