NAO: very moving


Three small robots on stage. White with blue, red and black. They look like shy little, well, robots.

And they move.

They dance.

They actually dance better than I do. (OK, not much of a feat, but still.)

They can play soccer (they have their own Robot Football World Cup), and have been seen doing standup comedy.

These machines, called NAO, are made by Aldebaran robotics in Paris. In theory, they could give many dancers a run for their money (well, me at least) but that’s not what they are made for, because they can do much more than dance. They can talk, listen and understand people. They interact. So apart from amusing people, they can help us. For instance in helping autistic children. They have problems interacting with people and though therapists can help them there, they themselves interact with the kids. Humans are complicated. Way too much stimuli. NAO can be programmed to be predictable. They are simplified humans. They are repetitive and give autistic children structure. Just what autistic kids need. Kids usually love them.

Adults then? Soon there will be many more elderly people than we can take care of. Our government would like people to take care of their friends, family and neighbours, but what if they can’t? And who takes care of the people who give care when they need it? NAO can help. They can read and write mail, switch the TV on, turn on lights, lift things, connect to every device in the house. You can talk to them and they can talk back.

But…wait…robots are a bit scary, right? Even though these ones look kind of lovable. And small. Child size. And they interact. They’re like company. Which is more than what you can say about staff in hospitals and homes for elderly people, where time pressure and staff shortage are an ever-growing problem. So we need robots now – robots who adapt to us, instead of the other way around. They can assist us where assistance is needed. There will always be doctors. But nurse NAO could be a much welcome nurse-assistant.

Plus, they could give me dancing lessons.

A live blog by Marije Elderenbosch