Everyone's favourite robot, Nao, has received two important boosts to its success. The first is an investment of $15 million by a group that includes Intel. With luck this should see Nao become more than just a platform for universities and other educational establishments.
The second piece of good news is an improved Nao model. You can see it being put though its paces in the video below but it is worth keeping in mind as you watch it that much of the performance is exactly that - a performance.
The video is introduced, in a very secondary role alongside the star of the show, by Bruno Maisonnier who is the boss of Aldebaran the company responsible for Nao. He explains that he is very much a geek and got into the whole enterprise because he was enthusiastic about electronics and robots when a teenager. Perhaps there is still a role for the geek entrepreneur in pushing forwards the boundaries of what is possible.
The Nao robot is good and getting better with every project but it hasn't reached the heights of intelligence that the video suggests. What it does prove, however, is that a robot doesn't have to be 100% humanoid to engage our empathy circuits, i.e. the machine is cute...
The new version has better motion controls, longer slightly curved arms and a new head. The software has been upgraded to include voice recognition, sound localization and face/general object recognition. These improvement plus the many independent projects using the Nao really does suggest that this particular line of robots might evolve into a useful platform.
Aldebaran, the company behind Nao, has plans to launch a full sized humanoid robot called Romeo designed to help elderly and disabled people. This is a clever way into the mainstream robot market. Software running on a small robot like Nao can be generalized to larger models and the smaller devices make better and cheaper development platforms.
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