Mackenzie Hurlbert – General Assignment Reporter –
“Hello! My Name is NAO. I’m a humanoid robot,” said Aldebaran Robotic’s latest creation upon greeting the audience. Running on a lithium battery, this little guy can do anything from playing soccer to teaching the thriller dance; all it takes is a little coding and programming. In the Adanti Student Center Theater last Monday, Dec. 3, Southern students were able to see NAO in action.
NAO first warmed up, showing-off with some Tai-Chi. It then demonstrated its ability to recognize faces, answer questions, and navigate the edge of a table without falling. All of this prompted by just a tap on its head and a command. “What do you want me to do?” NAO asked, and then reacted when given an answer.
“We wanted to have a robot that people would be able to interact with,” said presenter Nataniel Dukan, who moved from the Aldebaran headquarters in Paris to Boston in order to start a new branch of the company. Dukan said that while designing the robot, Aldebaran took into consideration and found much inspiration from movies and animations. “We wanted a cute robot, something engaging,” said Dukan. “And this robot is something that is usable. You can really interact with it. Altogether we are bringing robotics to the next level.”
Dukan gave a presentation on the many functions and services the NAO robot could bring to the world. Humanoid robot companions for the elderly are one possibility, but right now Aldebaran is focusing on perfecting the robot’s use as a tool for teaching and education. “What we want to do is develop robots for the benefit of human kind, research, and education. Robots that can really help us, assist us,” said Dukan.
NAO entertained and impressed the audience by reciting a summary of the Star Wars saga accompanied by theatrical movements and noises. “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” NAO started and incorporated sound effects like the buzz of a light saber and Darth Vader’s Heavy breathing.
Dukan then had the robot follow a red ball by using his sonar devices and his eyes, comprised of two HD cameras. While following the red ball, NAO was able to navigate the edge of the table without falling, but Dukan knocked him back to demonstrate how the robot reacts. “One thing that is very powerful here is that if I do movement [while programming] I can add a behavioral layer,” said Dukan while showing how easy it is to program. Once knocked on its back, NAO lifted himself back up onto his feet and then continued to follow the ball, demonstrating its self-sufficiency and ability to react and fix itself. This is important because if your robot is programmed to do a certain movement and falls, it will right itself instead continuing its programmed movement and squirming on its back.
The robot is made up of a variety of technological sensory devices. There are two loudspeakers, multiple LED lights, Wi-Fi connection, infrared sensors, two HD cameras, four microphones, and two sonar devices. Along with that, the robot has 25 points of articulation allowing for complex movement capabilities, an inertial center, and eight force sensing resistors on the bottom of its feet. Within its head is an Intel Atom 1.6 gigahertz computation, and in its core is the RAM and flash memory devices. So with all of this technology how much does it cost? Including software for programming and the robot, your total would be about $16 thousand.
“Human-Robot interaction in the industry… in general we see this getting more and more present,” said Dukan, who explained NAO’s originations as a robot for the RoboCup, a robot soccer championship. “Every year, universities from all over the world are gathering and competing in robot soccer,” said Dukan. In 2007, NAO got it’s big start when selected as the robot for the standard league platform games (i.e. the ones that are focused on robot programming and coding more than constructing your own robot). “We opened the robot so everyone could program it,” Dakon said. “We moved to use the robot for teaching and now we are sending the robot to high schools and middle schools.”
Students at Southern also enjoyed the robot and were very interested in the variety of technologies used. Freshman and computer science major Usman Khan saw a video online that sparked his interest. It was of the NAO robot doing the Thriller Dance. Khan attended the presentation to learn more about the robot. “I’m a computer science major so I’m interested in robots, computer technology, and programming,” said Khan. “I saw a YouTube video on it, and I’ve been waiting for this for about a week now.”
When asked if he would like to go into the robotics field, Khan said he would consider it. “Probably. I was thinking about it,” said Khan. “I might, I might not, but I am doing computer programming.”
Harold Prentiss, a junior computer science major, looked forward to the NAO presentation. While he doesn’t think he wants to go into the robotics field, he was interested in the NAO robot after watching multiple YouTube videos showcasing its talents. “I looked up some videos online and it actually seemed pretty interesting,” said Prentiss, and then described two videos he saw, one of NAO robots playing five-on-five soccer, and another about the personality and response of the robot. “They’re really interesting and there are a lot of [videos], so once you find one you can keep going… I wanted to come and check it out in person.”