Astri N.

Meet a NAO developer: interview with Carl Clement

First of all, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Carl Clement, I am a professional software developer and I run a development company based in the south of England, which specialises in brand/marketing, digital media delivery and corporate websites. We have recently opened a new division, called Emotion Robotics, which will be reselling NAO and services related to Aldebaran robots.

Have you always worked in the field of robotics?

I have been playing with robotics development as a hobby since the late 1980s. A lot of this has been based around a self-build or kit-based hardware and programming microcontrollers. In the late 1990s I attempted to build a biped walking robot and then was involved in the beta testing of some of the early humanoid robot kits from Korea.

For the last 4 years I have had my NAO and have been developing on NAO almost exclusively. Recently, with the creation of Emotion Robotics, I have been able to make robotics part of my working life as well as my hobby.

How did you discover NAO?

I remember reading about NAO and thinking “wow, imagine having a robot like that” but I was convinced that something as advanced as NAO would be out of my price range. Then I read a Robot Dreams’ blog post about the NAO Developer program. I think I thought about it for a whole minute before I decided to apply. Luckily I was accepted and in January 2011 my NAO was delivered.

You are very well-known at Aldebaran and within the community for your work in the autism field. Why have you turned your interest for this particular cause?

It was really by accident. I wrote a game for my 2.5 year old nephew so he could play with the robot. That was the original Animal Card Game. I put it up on the developer’s site and in the GIT repository and thought nothing more about it.

I was then contacted by Celine, a developer at Aldebaran working on their special education initiative, who asked if it was okay to pass a copy on to a research group who were looking at using robots to help children with autism. That peaked my interest and I started to wonder how the app might actually help. I was lucky enough to have the ASK NAO [Special Education initiative] team to help educate me and with Celine, Alex, Jessica and Olivier’s help I started to understand how robots could help.

NAO at Topcliffe Primary School

After working on applications of children with autism I was invited by Aldebaran to visit Topcliffe Primary School in Birmingham, UK. Actually seeing children with autism using the robot in a school setting just made me even more committed to working to expand the reach of NAO in special needs. It was a truly liberating experience.

Can you present your work and some of the apps you have developed?

I have developed a number of behaviors in two main areas.

The first area I was interested in was interfacing new hardware with NAO. I have interfaced a thermal array sensor for heat source location (including my cat), a GPS module and a series of other serial devices.

The second area was applications for children with autism. To date I think I have developed 6 behaviors including the Animal Card Game, How do I feel, Are You Sitting Comfortably, How Still Can I Be, the Number Sequence Game and the Children’s Interactive Tutorial. All of these behaviors have been included in the ASK NAO solution [NAO for Special Education] and are now maintained by a collaboration of ASK NAO and myself. Jessica has done an amazing job of moving them all to NaoQi 2.1 and I am looking forward to developing some new and hopefully interesting education behaviors with the new features of 2.1.

Which one is the most memorable for you?

I think the one I am still fondest of is The Animal Card Game. I see it demoed a lot, both for education and by people who still use the original version from nearly 3 years ago. I always felt it was the behavior I learned the most from and helped me understand the flow from a user’s prospective.

What are your current development projects and ideas or those to come?

Currently, I am working with the new Dialog system and enjoying getting NAO to be more conversational and I have started to play with adding a 3D camera. Now that we have a lot of new capabilities I have a long list of new ideas I want to try in a lot of different areas.

I think we have an opportunity to build a much more interactive user experience, and believe this will lead to a more natural interaction between NAO and people. That is pretty exciting, like making a sci-fi movie become reality.

Beside your engagement for special needs children, you are also heavily involved in the UK NAO user group. Can you tell us more about it?

UK NAO is the UK NAO Developer’s User Group, it came out of a group of us on the Community website suggesting we got together to talk about robots. That was about 3 and a half years ago. We have a very active group with a solid core membership that includes people such as Dave Snowdon, Christie Nel, Mike McFarlane and Joe Palmer.

The group has also been able to arrange a hackathon in both 2012 and 2013 (backed by Imperial College and Queen Mary University London). We have had attendees from all over the world at both hackathons. Last weekend, we held the NAOConf 2014 which is the first developer organized un-conference based around NAO in the world. Then, we try to meet as a user group every 8 weeks.

Well, the last question, but not least, what’s your hope(s) for the future of NAO and robotics?

I think everyone working with NAO is in a very unique position. We are the people who are helping define the future of robotics and particularly social robotics. Just as in the 90’s pioneers refined and defined what the internet has become today, we are defining what our children and grandchildren’s experience of living with robots will be like.

My hopes are that we will grow all our robotics work today into a true relationship with the robots of the future, where we will work, and play with our new companions and they will be there to make all our lives better.

Having lived with NAO for nearly 4 years I have seen the huge leaps we have made in how we can interact with him, the future will only bring a more natural experience as we define our new relationship. 

Bonus question: What is your best memory with your NAO?

Carl's nephew offering juice to NAO

I think my best memory was when my nephew first met NAO. My nephew was 2.5 years old and just accepted NAO as his new playmate.  They played some games, and then had a dance (I think it was Caravan Palace).
At this point my nephew got his juice box from the table, he was just about to take a drink when he paused and offered it to NAO. That’s when I realized how powerful NAO, as a social robot, is and will be. I was very lucky as my brother was filming and taking photographs so we even managed to catch NAO being offer some juice.
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