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Hi, my name is NAO. I was born at Aldebaran Robotics in Paris, France. Here’s a little bit about me:

This little robot is one of the most popular robots being used in the educational arena today. From the looks of him, it’s easy to see why. But he’s also available for research and development in a wide range of subjects such as home assistance and more. He’s been a pretty busy robot since his birth in 2005, and has evolved through six prototype phases until the first production unit was created in 2008 for the RoboCup League. But through it all NAO is still learning as much as we are. Yes, NAO is at school right now, and he seems to like it.

The one thing that is immediately noticeable about NAO is that he has a very humanistic personality. Of course, that’s not unusual since his main collaborators happen to be humans. It is also promising that Aldebaran released NAO’s controlling source code to the public as open source in May 2011. If you want see how far he has progressed, then take a look at the work of Heather Knight who presented her NAO robot named Data at TedWomen in the first-ever robot stand-up comedy show, as well as the dance troupe that appeared in Shanghai.

Heather Knight introduces Data the comedian at TedWomen 2010:

NAOs dancing at the France Pavilion Shanghai Expo in 2010:

All of the traits that Aldebaran Robotics built into NAO make it easy to understand why children are not only fascinated with robots, but why they treat them as one of their own when they collaborate with them.  When you have a new friend who acts like you, talks like you, and can even dances like you, well, it’s pretty easy to look past the fact that they look a little different than you. Out of the mouth of babes comes this sweet and insightful comment from an 8-year old girl in the US:

“My teacher treated my robot just like she was a real human student. My friends treated my robot like a human, too. She is friendly and funny and she fits in with all of us. No one would ever know that she is a robot except that she is made of metal and does not have skin. She is really smart and everyone likes to talk to her. She has a funny voice, but we do not tease her.” 

This thought, and many more, were found through an international innovation study, Robots @ School, completed by Latitude Research in January 2012. 350 children in the 8-12 age group from Australia, France, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in this study which uncovered some insights into the social and learning psychologies of children:

  • Smart = Social
  • Robots free us to learn and create in new ways
  • Let’s close the divide between learning and playing

Read more about the research findings at Latitude Research and download the report here. It is pretty fascinating to hear these children talk about robots as though they were one of them. And these children can also teach adults some important lessons that we’ve forgotten because we left our childhood behind.

But the most positive outcome of NAO’s birth can be seen in this video of a little autistic boy by the name of Mateo who is working with NAO and the University of Notre Dame’s Autism Research group:

With a sunny smile like Mateo’s, and comments like the one above from the Robots @ School study, it is little wonder that robots and children are a wonderful pairing. Children require a lot of patience and dedication, which is amply available with robots like NAO. The field of robotics is not the cold, emotionless world that many adults make it out to be. Maybe, just maybe, NAO has a much bigger heart than even Aldebaran Robotics could have imagined?

May 17th is a great day to think about it as we celebrate World Information Society and Technology Day.

More info about NAO: