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Meet NAO, your new classmate!

Muaz Shabandri / 18 October 2011

Students in Dubai will soon get to meet a new friend in their classrooms — a humanoid robot. Combining sophisticated intelligence with good looks, NAO perfectly fits the educational needs of schools and universities.

Blinking its blue eyes and moving its head across the room, the robot makes use of high-definition cameras to see people. A simple tap on its head brings the humanoid to life as it stands up on its feet.

“Give me the pen,” says NAO as it opens its hand in response to a gesture. Grasping the pen with its fingers, the robot represents human-like features in more than one way.

At 22 inches, NAO is a fully programmable humanoid robot which can see, hear, speak, move, walk, dance, and even play soccer. Performing synchronised dance moves at popular technology shows and events, it is fast gaining popularity with students and researchers.

“Ten years ago, people did not believe that computers would be an instrumental component of the teaching process, compared with today where a wide variety of technologies are incorporated in to the 21st century classroom,” said Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of Aldebaran Robotics.

High-school students in Germany are already using the humanoid to learn mechanics and mathematics by programming and simulating NAO. In France, 15- to 18-year-old use the robot to understand psychology and informatics.

“In the coming years, robotics will be as important to classrooms as computers are today. All future engineers, scientists and researchers in applied sciences will benefit from learning with and about robotics,” added Maisonnier.

Flexing its hands and legs to perform complicated dance moves, NAO is quick to capture the attention of onlookers with its friendly appearance. The latest generation of NAOs can even charge themselves by walking towards a pod and sitting there.

More than 1,500 units have already been sold worldwide. Makers of the humanoid hope to sell a few hundred units for educational purposes in the UAE and other Gulf countries.  “This is the future of education and we are going to see a robotic revolution very soon. NAO presents schools and universities in the Middle East with new avenues to improve the learning experience for students,” said Pascal Morel, area sales manager for Aldebaran Robotics.

An online community of educators, researchers and professors exchange ideas to enhance the capabilities of the humanoid on a daily basis. New applications are constantly being discovered in areas beyond robotics, including treating children with autism.

Students at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi are already using the humanoids to work with autistic children. In a few weeks, the first shipment of humanoids will make their presence at other educational institutes in the UAE.

Developed by Aldebaran Robotics and powered by Intel Atom technology, the device presents itself as a door to futuristic education. Complete with WiFi connectivity and internal memory, the sensory functions and movement of the humanoid offer a sneak peek into the future classroom. —muaz@khaleejtimes.com


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