Astri N.

Meet a Nao developer: interview with Franck Calzada

Let's continue the tour of our community members. Today, I have met one of the NAO Developer's superstar: Franck Calzada!

Can you introduce yourself to the community?

My name is Franck Calzada; I’m from France and live in Nantes in West France. I am 41 year old, married and have 3 children (2, 5 and 7 years old). My kids are a very good source of inspiration when I create new behaviors for NAO.

I have been part of the Developer Program and Community for almost 3 years now. And, I can say, NAO and Aldebaran’s robots have changed my life. At the beginning of 2014, I decided to create a company dedicated to the conception and development of applications for Aldebaran’s robots.

Have you always been interested in robotics?

I have a Master degree in computer science with a specialty in AI and signal processing. Robotics had always been a passion; I participated in many autonomous robotics contests in France as a student. I was more comfortable with the software side compared to mechatronics or electronic aspects. I wanted to make smart and useful autonomous robot applications.

At this time, I definitely wanted to become an engineer in robotics, but professional opportunities brought me to work in the US in Boston for 5 years in finance; but this was only for few years before getting back to my real passion…

How did you discover NAO?

After returning to France I heard about NAO in a French magazine called “Planète Robots”. First, of course, I looked at the design, I thought, “wow, this humanoid robot is so cute!” but quickly the first question was, “What does it have inside?”

From Aldebaran’s website and YouTube videos (especially the “NAO Next Gen”), I further discovered this masterpiece of technology and all its software and hardware parts. So many features in a little humanoid robot, I was totally amazed! After seeing others videos on internet (a lot from “TheAmazel”) I just felt in love with this little robot.

Then, I said to myself, “What can we do with such a robot?”, and looking at the software suite, SDK and APIs, I realized all the potential NAO could have. On the top of that, when I discovered the ability to interact naturally and intuitively with the robot; the answer was “So many things! The scope of application is limitless!”

For me, it was the first affordable real humanoid robot. Before, there were some humanoid robots, but they were only in few research labs in the world, at a very very expensive price point, and the purpose was not the same as Aldebaran’s robots.

With NAO, Aldebaran unlocked my dream; I could make applications so robots could be useful and fun.

You have launched your company: Intuitive Robots. Can you introduce it and tell us why have you chosen to become a ‘professional’ developer for Aldebaran’s robots?

I think we should all try to realize our dream, and my dream was to live my passion for robots.

I always do the comparison between personal robotics and personal computers in the 70’s / 80’s when some people believed that a PC at home could change the world. At this time, computers existed for many years, but not for anybody and not for daily life purposes; then, the hardware became more affordable and more efficient.

We all know today the impact of this revolution in computer. I say “revolution” because people decided to buy such device.

I am convinced the same revolution is happening in robotics, and thanks to Aldebaran who provides the best humanoids robots in the World (Pricing, Design, Software, Hardware and the potential).

They are so many things to do, with so many different purposes. I believe that Aldebaran’s robots will be, in a few years, a new member of our families.

Aldebaran’s robots can be used as companions, for kids (game, teaching, entertainment, etc.), for the parents (home automation, daily life usage, etc.), or for the elderly (health care, companionship, etc.).

They also can be used in stores, malls, hospitals, companies, museums as guides, advising, bringing some fun to everyday life, and sharing experience with people. They are the best natural interfaces that currently exist.Intuitive Robots Logo

This is why, beginning 2014, I created “Intuitive Robots”. We want to develop robot’s capacities by giving them a spark of life with new applications.

Some of your apps are showcased at Paris Aldebaran Atelier, can you introduce them?

I would take 2 of them; the famous “Akinator” and the amazing “NAO Math Writer” apps.

In Akinator©, the robot has to guess the person (real or not!) you are thinking of. It can be an actor, one of your family members, an important history figure, a fictional character, anyone! Then, the robot asks for details about this person and your answers will help him to guess the right person… From what I have heard, people are really impressed about it; thanks to the AI engine provided by Elokence, a French company.

This game is a great example of how to use an existing game from mobile devices or internet and adapt it to the robot. Moreover, it shows that we can achieve amazing stuff with the knowledge from internet.

Akinator for Pepper Akinator for Pepper - Intuitive Robots Akinator for Pepper - Intuitive Robots Akinator for Pepper - Intuitive Robots

The “NAO Math Writer” application brings a new way of interacting with children while practicing mathematics. In a nutshell, the robot writes a mathematical equation on the white board, and asks the child to answer correctly. If the given answer is correct, the robot congratulates the child and writes the answer. Then it randomly asks another question. On the contrary, if the given answer is wrong, NAO helps the child until he succeeds.

This application is way more interesting than just a right/wrong answer “finder”. The robot clearly helps the children to find the answer, motivates them, and has fun even if the child’s answer is wrong. Furthermore, sounds, animations or jokes are used to entertain the children and to keep the learning activity attractive.

NAO Math Writer

What are your current development projects and those to come?

Well, at Intuitive Robots, we want to create useful, user-centric and intuitive applications for Aldebaran’s robots. It will take too much space to talk about what’s coming, but in a nutshell, we are working on different applications for different purposes. Going from kids applications / games, passing by some daily life apps for everybody (home automation, connected applications), to applications for alone and dependent people to facilitate their daily life.

But I’m taking the opportunity here to present our newly released application called “Math Reader”.

Contrary to the Math Teacher application, the child becomes the professor and teaches the robot to do mathematics! The child writes a mathematical equation and simply asks NAO or Pepper to give the correct answer. By reading and analyzing what is written on the whiteboard, the robot answers the child question. Then it is the child’s turn to validate or not what the robot is saying.

Many configurations allow the user to change the way the game happens (game difficulty and length, type of operators, the robot can fake wrong answer so that the child must correct him, etc.).

Math Reader - Intuitive Robots

This application adds a new dimension in the learning process as the child can now learn by being the professor. The child gains confidence in math as he is the one giving the answer. Even with mistakes the child may make, the robots guides the child through the correct thought process and remains entertaining. We worked hard on our AI Engine for human writing recognition, and we are happy that children want to do math (with NAO).

Math Reader - Intuitive Robots Math Reader - Intuitive Robots Math Reader - Intuitive Robots Math Reader - Intuitive Robots Math Reader - Intuitive Robots

Even before starting with Intuitive Robots, you have invested a lot of time with NAO, you have developed plenty of apps, and been engaged with the community, sharing videos and so on. How do you manage that? What is your process from making an app: from getting the idea to the release?

A lot of people I meet in different events, such as the London Hackathon for instance, always ask me this question “How do you manage to invest so much time in creating apps?! Do you sleep??”

Well, yes, I sleep and have a life. ;-) Actually most of the apps I showcased on YouTube didn’t take that much time to produce (3 or 4 days). Here’s how I do them. I try to be creative, pragmatic, and efficient. I avoid re-inventing the wheel, and finally, I need to see something that works quickly.

To do so, first, I think you need to know your personal skills and limits. It looks obvious, but this is important to keep you motivated and in a positive trend. Then, knowing the robot’s limits is very important as well because you cannot do everything with NAO. So it requires reading and spending some time on the documentation.

Then I try to be creative. I look around me and ask myself if NAO could do it, or how NAO could help me. I ask people (special thanks to my kids who give me a lot of ideas and inspire me).

Once I have an idea that I know I can do and I know that NAO can do, I start to develop it with low expectations for the first PoC (Proof of Concept). Finally, I increase features / difficulties in an iterative process in order to have something to “see”, and that works all the time. This gives me some energy, keeps me involved in my projects, and makes me want to do more.

But I want to underline that although you can end up with a PoC within few days; finalizing an app to be ready and deployed to end users is totally different. It takes a lot, a lot of time. They’re so many skills required to do so (dialog content, animations, gameplay, story-board, front-end/back-end development, tests and tests again, documentation, videos …). This is exciting!

What’s your hope(s) for the future of NAO and robotics?

For the future of NAO, I don’t hope, I believe!

I believe NAO and other Aldebaran’s robots will be in our houses by thousands and millions in few years, and I hope people will appreciate and enjoy our applications.

We can see on the hardware side that components are getting more affordable, minimized and robust. On the software side, a lot of technologies are more and more efficient (vision, voice recognition, etc).

Robotics, in general, is entering in a new era, in an era where robots are not only in factories, but entering our homes to facilitate our daily lives as companions. We can feel and see that something is happening.

Thus, we are lucky to participate in this adventure thanks to Aldebaran! We have the opportunity to create and invent news things. Let’s just do it! Let’s create behaviors!

Finally, the traditional bonus question: What is your best memory with your NAO?

I really have many, but one will always remain in my mind.

Recently, we have tested our latest application “Math Reader” in real conditions with a lot of children from 6 to 9 years old. Children had to write answers to mathematical operations on a white board and NAO would help them to find the correct answer. First, it’s always special to see shiny stars in children’s eyes when they look at NAO.

After the first showcase, all children wanted to do mathematics with NAO. They were amazed and wanted to know if NAO could recognize what they wrote with their own handwriting specifically, and if their answer was correct.

They were all say: “my turn!”, “I wanna try”, “I wanna play with NAO”; and probably the most astonishing and I have to say not expected; “I want to do math!”. Q.E.D. Our application was useful, intuitive and fun.

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