This little humanoid robot was born in France in 2005. It is only 56cm high, but it can do a lot of things. Nao robot can walk, dance, play soccer at RoboCup, learn your face and recognize you, and even be used to communicate with autistic children.
Right now, it is more of a research tool but Aldebaran Robotics, the company behind Nao and Pepper, wants to put it in every home in the next few years.
Let's see what this robot kid can do!
It's crazy what you can find in a 50cm tall box! I mean, Nao is not the only small humanoid robot. For much less money, you can get a Bioloid, a Robonova or a Lego Mindstorm and even a the new Darwin-OP.
But even compared to an Aibo, Nao has so many more features. So let's review them all.
So, Nao has two big eyes, that are actually infrared sensors (just like on your TV remote). The cameras are the two little holes at the place of its nose for the global view, and its mouth to look at its hands or feet.
Still on Nao's head, you can find its ears, which are actually the speakers, but there are also 4 little holes around it for the microphones.
It also has 3 touch sensors on top, so that you can stroke its head when you like. You can add to all this a lot of pretty LEDs that can be useful to communicate (especially when you want to simulate emotions).
And if you think it's not enough, you can add a laser range finder to map the environment in details, or a mini-projector so that Nao can make its own presentation.
Both are optional devices that can be mounted on top of its head instead of the touch sensors. And I heard there is still place for more...
Okay, so now, the little humanoid robot can see and hear, and communicate by infrared, but that's not all.
Nao has a sonar in its chest that can locate several obstacles in a 2 meter range. It also has bumpers in its feet and arm, and force plates under its feet to check its balance.
Inside the chest it has accelerometers to track its own relative position (like "I've walked one meter") or its posture (it can be used for fall detection).
All these sensors make it a complete platform to recognize and interact with its environment. The next challenge is to program all these sensors with its on-board CPU. And that part is not perfect yet.
The Nao robot also has 25 actuators (motors) to move. It can rotate its head, shoulders, elbows... almost everything but the trunk/hips rotation is there.
Thanks to this complete setup, the small humanoid robot can walk in any direction (front, back, side or a combination). He can also perform complex synchronized dances, like in the show for the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
Actually, the problem is more about learning the movements than doing them. But with a Kinect used for capturing motion, Nao can repeat complex movements from a human operator, like picking up objects or doing carpentry.
Okay, it can do a lot of things on paper, thanks to all these motors and sensors. But what can Nao actually do?
Thanks to many research projects on humanoid robots using Nao, it can now achieve many things. Of course, Aldebaran Robotics is also putting a lot of efforts into improving its possibilities, and with the Developer Program, hobbyists and professionals can join the community.
First, Nao can move around in complex motions IF you show him how to do it. There is a software called Choregraphe that makes it easy to teach him new positions.
The challenge is when you want to teach him new movements, you have to show him almost every position.
It's exactly the same thing as moving a 3D model for a movie using key frames (or "key positions"). You have to be a little more careful about the balance and the torque of the motors though.
With this, Nao can make any kind of movement from waving its hand to dancing. For walking, it uses more complex mathematical models, and it can hardly grasp objects.
Second, the little humanoid robot can talk, using a text-to-speech technology available in several languages (English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and more than 15 languages in total).
It can also recognize words, and sentences using the same Dialog system as Pepper.
When you talk with Nao, he looks at you and can recognize your face. He can even know when you smile, or estimate your age and gender.
Nao is getting well known for its soccer performances at the RoboCup. There is a special league for Naos (that replaced the Sony Aibos).
Though less impressive than soccer robots (created to play soccer) mainly because they are a lot slower, they show some complex behaviors.
And instead of being a robot design competition like other leagues, it is more an AI design challenge, since all the teams have the same robots, and it can process more information faster than most other robots.
While some people criticize the principal of the Nao League (called Standard League), in my opinion it's the difference between the "Best Soccer Robot" (specialized humanoid robot) or the "Best Robot that Can Play Soccer" (general purpose robot learning one more thing).
It's like asking an athlete training for the decathlon to compete against sprinters: both have their interest though no one will watch the sprint of decathlon athletes...
Talking about decathlon, Nao developers have won prizes in many RoboGames challenges over the years.
The Nao humanoid robot also has some more advanced behaviors, coming from the University research. Nao has been used to simulate emotions, and even to learn moral values when it communicates with people. Another useful application is to help autistic children to communicate.
All these features make Nao a much more complete robot than any other humanoid robot on the market.
That may help explain why Aldebaran Robotics have sold more than 5000 Naos around the world.
buy the complete Nao robot for about 6000€.
Hobbyists used to be able to get their robot for about 3600€ via the developer program. The developer program was meant for robot hobbyist or professionals who would like to participate on the development of Nao from their home.
You can own a Nao with the development software and be part of the community today. And from 2015, many apps should be available for both Pepper and Nao.
UPDATE: JULY 2014
Nao is now available to everyone for about $8000. So still expensive, but you can buy if you want.
More on the Nao Developer Program right here (now closed).
Also, Nao's little brother Pepper (who is actually bigger), also made by Aldebaran, will be available from 2015 in Japan for only $2000.
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