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Brief Published: 11 Nov 2014

Rethinking Robot Design

Aldebaran Robotics

Global robotics company Aldebaran explored the next steps to commercialising advanced robots for the consumer market at the Human Interactive event in London last week (November 6).

Research director Rodolphe Gelin outlined key insights Aldebaran uncovered while developing Nao, a small companion robot.

  • Make Them Human: Successful consumer robots will be like humans because "they are more easily accepted by both children and adults than a box on wheels", said Gelin.
  • Open Up Software: As with mobile phones, opening up robots to software developers will bring new capabilities that meet consumer needs.

  • Provide Personalised Responses: Companion robots have to respond in a personalised, contextual way. Developers are training Nao to recognise gestures, activities and users' emotional states from facial expressions and tone of voice.

  • Looks Come First: Elderly consumers rejected the idea of companion robots until they saw the cute, diminutive Nao; only then were they interested in what the robot could do. Feedback also suggested that consumers want robots to be taller than the 58cm Nao, but no taller than a seated person.

  • Consider New Business Models: The sensors and kit involved in complex robotics is expensive – Nao costs over $5,000. Aldebaran has explored partnerships with insurers willing to subsidise robots that provide additional safety in the home. 

Gelin concluded that while creating advanced consumer robots is very complex, the technology exists in industry and research labs and is on the cusp of converging into a commercially viable product for every home.

For more on how robots are evolving in the new machine age, see SXSW 2014: Robotics.