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Dec 8, 2011
"NAO Next Gen" robot introduces open source programming to robotics industry
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From Honda's ASIMO nimbly performing a new set of skills for crowds to robotic bears silencing snores with the softest of tickles, the world has recently been subjected to an invasion of sorts from robots. The most recent entry into the personal robot field comes from France's Aldebaran Robotics (AR), the "NAO Next Gen."

The intended purpose of NAO is no different from other robots designed for the personal-care industry. The NAO has features similar to other robots like it and appears unimpressive at first sight. The robot has a height of just under 2 feet, which is less than half the height of the widely known ASIMO. Despite the physical difference, it is equipped with much of the same features of rival robots but at a more advanced level. The company envisions the current robot being used to serve organisations that care for autistic children or those who are reliant on physical assistance from others.

The NAO has been designed for interaction with the real world. It is equipped with two 920p cameras that can capture 30 images per second. The cameras scan the surrounding area at different depths, allowing the robot to recognize the surroundings. Through the use of set algorithms that are programmed within the robot, it can recognize faces and shapes. This allows the robot to observe and monitor patterns which can provides information crucial to caring for the elderly.

The robot can further interact with its environment through Wi-Fi, ethernet, or infrared connections. It is compatible with the IEE 802.11g Wi-Fi standard and can be used on both WPA and WEP networks, can easily connect to home or office networks and can distinguish its location based on the IP address it obtains. The information gathered from this will allow it to provide local feedback of the area it is in. The infrared features allow the robot to interact with other robots or devices that use infrared. Combined with its voice recognition software, NAO can use infrared to complete simple tasks like turning on the television.

The inclusion of  four microphones within the body also help it discern when people are speaking to it, providing it with the ability to interact with people in a natural way. The voice interaction software has been upgraded from previous versions, allowing for a faster response time called “NUANCE." It is designed to work with a new function that allows the robot to single out words in a conversation, making giving commands to the robot an effortless task.

The movement of the robot is designed to be as fluid as possible. Joint sensors throughout the body provide stabilization feedback that ensures a smoother walking motion by resisting small disturbances caused by uneven or soft surfaces. The robot also employs sonar sensors that allow it to navigate around obstacles in its path by detecting them up to 2 feet way, thus avoiding the potential to become obstructed or trapped.
Improvements to the onboard computer allow equips the NAO with the ability to perform many of its complex tasks. This is partly due to the fact that NAO is powered by a processor based on Intel's 1.6 GHz Atom processor, which is adept at handling multiple calculations at the same time.
NAO’s open source design gives it a leg up on its competition. Many of the features that are included in the new version have been created by AR and their Developer Program - a collective group of 1500 programmers and researchers who are helping the company create the next-generation of personal robots. Aside from the traditional application of being a helper robot in the future, NAO is being used as a research and educational tool. AR provides a software development-kit in addition to the robot so that people can program distinct behaviors and meet each customer’s needs.
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