NAO robot

NAO robot, you can get one now…for an arm and a leg…if you get picked

For the longest time I thought 2 things were going to happen before 2010. The first was that tablets were going to take off. They did. I thought Windows was the OS to do it since Microsoft had been trying for ages but that didn’t really work out. Instead, Apple came out of no where with the iPad. Actually it was probably because of a Microsoft executive (read the Steve Jobs biography!) but that’s another story. The second thing that I thought was going to happen: robots.

I honestly thought robots were going to be mainstream by now – like everyone either has one or knows someone who does. Years ago, I used to watch a show called ‘Japanese Video Topics’ and they had all sorts of robots; from the Aibos to the the ASIMOs of this world, both announced over 10 years ago in 1999 and 2000 respectively, what ever happened to them? I understand they were quite expensive when they first came out but isn’t all technology? I thought by now I’d have or at least I’d be able to afford a robot pet of some sort. But ain’t so.

NAO robot with 25 degrees of freedom

NAO robot with 25 degrees of freedom

The NAO robot shown above is the latest iteration of the robot by Aldebaran Robotics. They have a developer program whereby you apply and if accepted you pay several thousands to join. Once a member of the developer program you get a robot with the SDK. So these things aren’t really for sale. 🙁

The cheapest programmable robots are probably the Roomba vacuuming robots by iRobot, you can buy those for a few hundreds. They have all sorts of range sensors and there are lots of ways to interface and program them around the inter-webs. Of course they don’t have arms or fingers with opposable thumbs like the NAO robot but it sure beats nothing. Funny thing about iRobot is that they are this hightech robotics company making cutting-edge military robots…and vacuums.

I guess it comes down to what consumers would want with a robot. I would want to program it for fun, teach it to do something interesting like…umm…dance?… I can’t even think of a good reason why I would want one actually. It can’t make calls or help me communicate, it can’t do anything useful like fetch stuff because it’s too slow and the process is pretty complex (obstacle avoidance, object recognition, navigation) it can’t keep me company because the AI and voice recognition on it probably sucks. Basically, until these things are good enough for doing things in a domestic and highly complex environment, they will never become mainstream. Given the exponential rate of progress, probably by 2020 we’ll have something.

So much for that.