The X-Factor of Robots


X-Factor of Robots

NAO is the Michael Phelps of robots. This humanoid is not just the winner of RoboCup soccer (it has its own league), but it is also ready to take over the robotic dance forum in the upcoming Robotic Idol. To the average reader, this may sound like a cute, childlike event, however the ability for a machine to dance like Rihanna or “Bend It Like Beckham” is no trivial pursuit.

NAO is quickly becoming the gold standard of the next generation of humanoid robots. NAO costs roughly around $5,000, which is a bargain compared to its giant cousin, Honda’s humanoid ASIMO, which is about five times the height of NAO and would cost approximately $150,000 a month to lease.

NAO is the brainchild of Aldebaran Robotics, a research company founded by Bruno Maisonnier in 2005. Aldebaran boasts of its “fully-programmable and interactive humanoid robot equipped with state-of-the-art motion, vision, tactile and audio capabilities” as well as its ability to “walk on different surfaces, track and recognize faces and objects, express and understand emotions, and react to touch and interact by voice.”

“Developing natural, conversational interactions with humanoid robots is a challenging and pioneering area of robotics. Our robots have to express and understand emotions, and, for this, there needs to be expression in their voice that speaks to their personality and matches their body language,” said Maisonnier, who is also the CEO of Aldebaran. Maisonnier’s crew is building a library of applications for education, autism therapy, university research and engineering R&D projects.

Today, there are 5,000 NAOs in existence across the globe. This little army could eventually be the elves in the workshop of industry and government (maybe Sebelius should order a few to fix the Obamacare website). In my opinion, NAO represents a new way of commercial-born robotic innovations, which, when open-sourced, enter a new exciting realm of possibilities.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is the Founding Partner of Autonomy Ventures a New York based venture capital firm focused on seed stage investments in robotics, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence. He has spent the last twenty years building and selling ventures, including: Holmes Protection to ADT/Tyco, Americash to American Express, and launching RobotGalaxy, a national EdTech brand. Oliver has been investing in the robotic industry for close to 10 years, with four successful exits in his angel portfolio in the past two years (including 2 IPOs). He is also a member of New York Angels and co-chairs the Frontier Tech Committee.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy in 2006 to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. RobotGalaxy’s patented toys were a national phenomena available at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online that connected to a virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies including Greensight Agronomics and Que Innovations.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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