I've recently had the honour of being accepted onto the NAO robot developer programme. I'm more than a little excited. The NAO is an awesome little robot produced by the French company Aldebaran Robotics. It's designed for a wide range of uses and is available to educational establishments, RoboCup teams, and selected developers(!), with a planned public release in the next year or two.
The NAO is one of the most advance humanoid robots in the world and is pretty dexterous. Want it to dance? No problem! Do a little Star Wars reenactment? Easy! But with speech and face recognition and motion control built in as standard the Nao can do far more than just repeat a set of pre-programmed motions. The official development programme video has a few ideas. I think it can do more.
The latest generation NAO H25 v4 is 57cm tall, made of tough PC/ABS plastic and is powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. NAO has 2 HD cameras with a dedicated video processor giving it excellent vision, 4 microphones which allow sounds to be located and processed, 2 sonar distance sensors with a range of 0-75cm, 2 infrared emitters and receivers for communication (or to turn your NAO into an expensive TV remote control), 9 tactile sensors and 8 pressure sensors. Communication isn't a problem with on-board Wi-Fi, Ethernet and Bluetooth. The NAO has 1 GB RAM to play with and internal storage is provided by an SSD and an internal SD card. The battery life is about an hour-and-a-half so the NAO has plenty of life in it!
Programming robots can be challenging, but the NAO makes life easier in two ways. Firstly, there is the nice Choregraphe visual programming tool (left) that lets you give the robot instructions by connecting together action or event boxes which are then run in order. Secondly, the NAO SDK allows code to be written for the robot in a number of languages, including C++, Python and Urbi (a nice looking parallel event-driven scripting language).
So how much does this little beast cost? The educational version of the NAO (the blue one) is priced as such and costs around £10,000-12,000. Developers who get accepted onto the NAO developer programme get access to the latest model (a shiny grey H25 v4) at a reduced price of €3723, so around £3,200, which includes French taxes and delivery to the UK. I'm not sure how much you can get for a kidney, but it might be worth it… I'll be saving up (money, not kidneys), but in the mean time I've got a trial version of Choreographe and enough technical documentation to keep me busy for a while yet! Are you a developer? Why not apply!