Aldebaran’s Update, Part 1: NAO Evolution

NAO on September 23 2014

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Aldebaran released the newest version of their signature product, the NAO robot, this June, alongside a new version of their Choregraphe software.  We at Teq have had some time to explore the changes, and have noted quite a few improvements in both the robots and the software that we think teachers will appreciate. Today, I’ll focus on the robot itself, and the changes that teachers thinking about buying a NAO should be aware of.

NAO RevolutionNAO Evolution, which still measures at 58 cm tall, is doesn’t look much different from the old NAO model. He is, however slightly heavier (5.4 kg) than his predecessor. This is due to the new metal gears in the joints, which make the robot’s limbs stronger.  He is also much quieter than the last NAO model; the soles of his feet have been redesigned to reduce friction and noise when he walks.

Dedicated NAO fans will notice other improvements, such as the rubber grips added to the fingers (shown below) and small openings on his head to improve his ability to detect a sound’s location.  Best of all, NAO Evolution comes with a stronger battery, allowing the robot to run 30% longer than before, and improved sonar, allowing him to sense objects as far as 3 meters away.

NAO Evolution's hands come equipped with rubber grips, which improve his dexterity.
NAO Evolution’s hands come equipped with rubber grips, which improve his dexterity.

But not all the changes are physical. NAO owners who are fans of NAO’s Life will find this feature, now called Autonomous Life, quite different. In the new release, Autonomous Life is already part of the robot—instead of needing to be downloaded, NAO will start Life as soon as it is booted up for the first time! Students will get a kick out of this trick, as if the robot really is alive from the moment it ‘wakes up’.

Triggering commands using Autonomous Life is no longer done with the sensors on the head, but by speaking to NAO while in direct view of its camera. While this eliminates one popular use of the head sensors (which has resulted in some grumbling), they are still capable of being used when programming, just like the rest of the robot’s tactile sensors.
In addition, some would argue that the change results in more realistic engagement, allowing students to talk to NAO in a more lifelike way. Since many special education teachers have reported using NAO for socializing high-needs students, I believe that this change was made with them in mind. After all, the more genuine the robot’s actions, the better!

(I recommend, however, that teachers who use Autonomous Life place their robot at eye level.  The robot is wonderfully responsive, but really does have to be looking directly at you for Life to function as intended.)photo 3

The most significant change, however, is in the new operating system. NAO Evolution runs on the new NAOqi 2.0 OS, which adds several new options. At this point, this makes NAO Evolution the only model of NAO that is compatible with the new Choregraphe 2.1 without an upgrade. While this comes with the benefits of not needing to update the robot to use the new software (which I will cover in an upcoming post), it also means that the new robot only works with the new software. In short: If you’re getting NAO Evolution, make a point to download the newest Choregraphe first!