When, besides in children’s cartoons (and my Christmas blogs), do you ever get to see robots dancing? At the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry!
This past week I had another opportunity to check out cutting edge robotics at the museum. This event was showcasing Aldebaran Robotics’ Nao (pronounced “Now”) Robot, a top notch humanoid robot companion.
Not only is this robot the star of the international Robocup Challenge, it also is used in research around the world. Now (no pun intended) I have seen a lot of robotics kits and packages put together over the recent few years, but what really stands out to me with Nao is the level of development that has gone into the physical and software design, a testament to Aldebaran’s commitment to this project.
Nao is programmed through the Choregraphe IDE (available to try for free), which kind of reminds me of LabVIEW cross-bred with theatrical blocking. The software is fairly intuitive for non-technical users to be able to get Nao to do simple activities, and its concept of timed (i.e. choreographed) motions lets you create really human-looking movements (even dances!) In addition, for advanced users, Nao is compatible with Python script, C++, and even has a .Net SDK.
The really great thing about Nao is that he is being used in many, many research projects, including medical research at The University of Notre Dame for treating autism in children. Apparently for those with communication disorders, robots provide a simpler, less stressful interaction than another human would. With less “noise” than human-human interaction, human-robot interaction can allow patients to start to open up and to bridge the messaging gap.
This chance to meet Nao, one of my favorite new robots, was a big treat for me, as he is really an endearing, enjoyable acquaintance. It also was the first time that I was able to start thinking about robotics and medical/psychological therapy. So often people ask what the “point” of artificial intelligence and robotics is, and I’ve struggled to find a good answer. I am confident however that improving our emotional well-being, just like a pet, pen-pal, or even a playmate would, will be a frontier of robotics in the coming part of the century.