How to make your NAO apps magical

Julien Gorrias is emotion director at Aldebaran, which means he’s in charge of making us all fall in love with NAO. He’s spending a lot of time making sure that NAO and Romeo will make an emotional connection with people. From the way a robot looks to a way he acts, we have to think about that connection if we want him to be more than a machine for the people who will welcome a robot into their home.

As essential as it is, it can all seem a bit abstract, especially when you’re working on an app and just trying to make it work. But if we’re to build an emotional robot, “it just works” is not enough. We’ve talked with Julien to find out more about emotional design and how it applies to robots, and came up with these four questions you should ponder when building an app. Finding answers to those questions should help you make your app a little bit more than just useful.

Is my app doing something that could only be done with a robot?

A humanoid robot is not a laptop. It’s not a smartphone either. He may be of less use if you’re trying to accomplish some specific productive tasks. Don’t try to make him do something that another platform could let you do better. Because your robot has his own strentghs : he’s cute, he’s loveable, he can interact with the physical world in his own ways… All of which will help him make an emotional connexion with the user. Focus on these strengths!

Am I using all of the robot’s capabilities to their fullest?

Once again, a humanoid robot like NAO has a lot of unique features that you not only can but should absolutely use. If your robot is talking, it’s great, but he should not just stand around and lecture you in a way that’s too… robotic. 

He should joke, laugh, cheer, reassure, counsel. He should be happy, sad or thankful. He should struggle, fail and win… In short, he should do a lot of stuff that is not necessary but no less essential.

So let him express all that by having him move around, speak, play, be moody. Don’t be afraid to introduce some randomness. If you make sure that these “unneccessary” elements are as polished and as thought through as anything in your app, you’ll have made something truly amazing.

Could a novice use this app?

You’ve probably spent a lot of time with the robot and various apps, and you’ve internalised several quirks of NAO. But not everyone will be as experienced as you, and being confronted with confusing controls for your app can take the user out of the most immersive experience. You want them to feel like their interaction with the robot is as natural as possible.

Am I telling a story through this app, and what is it?

We’re not necessarily talking complex narrative here. From experience, we’ve learned that the moment people make the strongest connection with the robot is when he falls over, and then gets himself up. There’s a small story there, one of overcoming defeat, one that makes us empathise with the robot, and there should be one in your application too.

The user of your app and the robot must have gone through an experience together, something must happen that will make them connect.

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