Illustrating French Innovation: Nao – Aldebaran’s Robot

Miniature de l'image pour 2aldebaran.jpgAldebaran Robotics was founded 5 years ago with objectives to design, develop and commercialize humanoid robots and their software for research, teaching as well as domestic uses.

Over 600 Naos have been sold worldwide and Aldebaran has now stands as a major world player in the niche market of humanoid robots. The company even sells its robots to the Japanese, which as Rodolphe Gelin of Aldebaran states is “One of the [its] great achievements”. Besides mechanics and electronics, programming is one of the essential dimensions of the Nao’s development. Rodolphe Gelin stressed the excellence of current and former EPITA students currently working on his team at Aldebaran Robotics.
At the talk, Nao, the prodigal son of Aldeberan, walked, danced, chased a ball, swayed on its hips and played football in front of the amused EPITA students.
Let’s set the scene. Japan in 2050: 30 million Japanese, including 11 million retired and 40% above 65 years old. The example of the robots’ homeland is representative of what is now happening in the developed countries. Robotics appears as one solution to the relative decline of the labour force and its global ageing. It is therefore bound to grow sharply in the near future.
In this context, developing a robot in the image of man does not seem so absurd. The challenges faced by developers of Nao were examined by Rodolphe Gelin during his speech.
One challenge is constantly improving the capabilities of the robot for the sake of resemblance with human beings. An important issue here is to ensure that Nao can walk similarly to man. Today, it focuses on each step. In the future, it should be able to utilize its destination as its walking guide.   Furthermore, Nao’s balance should interlink with its behavior. An inertial system, capable of accounting for Nao’s inclination in space can be compared to the human inner ear. Finally, the ability to map a foreign place and recognize the shapes with precision represents another area of development for the robot.
A second challenge is the constant improvement of the robot to address customer satisfaction. The limits of the possible uses of Nao and the definition of its functions should be clarified within this context. Nao, as a humanoid robot, has an important action potential, but it is however less efficient on every possible application than a specialized robot for an equivalent function. An interesting idea would be to run Nao like a steward, a conductor capable of working with intelligent robots and provide an interface between the user and the robots in the house. Intimately connected to customer satisfaction lays the issue of product strength and durability, which Nao makers rise with this epic motto: let us make Nao resist the pressure of 1000 waterfalls.
A last challenge resides in the array of Nao’s possible applications. An interesting idea would be that clients of Aldebaran, at present mostly researchers, also become providers of applications, which will allow to add a bank of applications for Nao from its targeted en users.
Beyond these developments, an ethical question arises, perhaps more distant from the immediate concerns of researchers: how can Nao acquire a sense of ethics?  A problem that is not unlike the dilemma posed by the intelligence of the computer HAL in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey:” and if Nao surpassed man by 2050?