One of our very special guests for the upcoming TEDx Vienna conference on November 3 is going to be NAO from Aldebaran. Yet, as science-fiction-ish the name may sound, NAO is not exactly an unknown creature from a distant planet near Aldebaran. Not quite. NAO, pronounced “Now”, is probably one of the best autonomous humanoid robots out there, created by Aldebaran Robotics, a Paris-based company.
As the GPS system before our time, NAO seems to be on its way to becoming a consumer product, which already boasts much of the “user friendliness” which most of its predecessors in the robotic universe lacked. With a height of slightly over half a meter, seemingly flexible movements and just about all the functionality you can expect, NAO appeals to the observer as a strikingly (artificially) intelligent machine, with slight touches of Siri-like conversations and humor.
But the actual strength of NAO is probably its open source based software, allowing an ever growing part of the population to program the robot. Consequently, as quoted on the company website, “NAO is the most widely used humanoid robot for academic purposes worldwide. More than 1000 NAOs have been sold to 300 universities and laboratories in over 30 countries to serve as research tools.” With its user friendly interface, NAO has found its way into classrooms, universities, and even into the Robocup, an international robotics competition founded in 1997.
As programmers worldwide develop the hardware and software of NAO (and all to come in the next years), Aldebaran’s engineers might someday find their way into the private households. Yet how long that will take, and at what price, may be a matter of (light) years. Until then, come and take a closer look for yourself, engage with NAO and team behind it at the TEDx Vienna conference on November 3, 2012.