After 7 years working at Aldebaran, Rodolphe was recently appointed to the position of Chief Scientific Officer, an opportunity to learn more about his vision and Aldebaran future.
Rodolphe can you start by telling us a bit about your background?
Sure, I graduated from the School of Civil Engineering and hold a DEA (Research Master’s Degree) in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Paris VI. Out of school I joined the French Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique: CEA) where I worked on the control of mobile robots for service applications, cleaning and helping the disabled. In 1998, I led the laboratory service robotics department and in 2001 was appointed as head of cognitive service robotics and interaction at CEA LIST (technological research division) in Saclay. Between 2006 and December 2008, I was responsible for the Interactive System program where I helped develop important partnerships within the robotics industry. As a member of the European CARE project I handled the European professional service robotics roadmap. On behalf of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization), I led the working group on the definition of the robotic vocabulary. I was particularly passionate about robotics used for rehabilitation and was disappointed that most prototypes are not made into actual products.
What brought you to Aldebaran?
During a trip to Japan I met Bruno Maisonnier, the founder of Aldebaran, and really liked his vision of making companion humanoid robots available for everyone that would increase well-being. In 2008, when Bruno received funding for the Romeo project, he offered me to join Aldebaran to manage this collaborative project. I had always been curious to see what it was like to actually produce a robot and how the process could benefit academic research so it seems like the perfect opportunity to explore both. I’ve been with Aldebaran for over 7 years now and still learning!
You were recently appointed to the position of EVP Chief Scientific Officer. Can you tell us more about your function and mission?
Generally my mission is to manage the Innovation of Aldebaran. It’s the job of our Innovation team to think up the future products, features and functions. We will work alongside the Hardware and Software teams to propose improvements to our current robots, NAO and Pepper, brainstorm possible designs for future robots as well as their features and usages. For innovation to be successful it needs to have a short term, medium term and long term roadmap. These roadmaps should be built together with various teams in the company (including Software and Hardware) with input from teams like Marketing and Sales. The Innovation team’s goal is to dream up new products while holding true to Aldebaran’s vision: humanoid robots for the well-being of people.
Previously a lot of your work revolved around the Romeo project. Can you tell us what that is?
Romeo is a collaborative research project created to take the challenge of developing a larger companion robot able to more effectively assist in day to day physical activities, such as opening a door. Research on Romeo was initiated in January 2009 and has brought together a dozen industrial and academic partners. In four years, Romeo has moved from an ambitious vision of service robotics to a 1.4m robot, known all over the world. The first models have been ordered by French and European laboratories. The Romeo 2 project was launched in November 2012 and includes 16 industrial and academic partners.
Will you still be involved with the Romeo Project in your new role?
Romeo represents the long term vision of Aldebaran. Not only because it’s a project close to my heart but also because it’s a projection on our company roadmap, I will still be involved in the project. Several research labs around Europe are working with Romeo as part of the ongoing evolutions of the project. In 2016 we will do some preliminary tests with Romeo assisting elderly representing one more step closer to a truly assistive humanoid robot. You can learn more information on the Romeo project on the dedicated website.
What has been your greatest achievement at Aldebaran?
There are several so it’s difficult to choose the greatest. Romeo is, of course, what I consider one of my most notable achievements. As a roboticist, it is difficult to imagine anything sexier than developing, from scratch with a small team, a tall humanoid robot. When the robot was fully assembled and fully operational for the first time, it was really great. The delivery of our prototypes to partners was a great moment as well. I was so proud of what we had done with the Romeo team. Of course, the first steps of Romeo are beautiful memories for me too. But I should say that the participation in the Carotte contest, where 3 NAOs were supposed to explore an unknown area, was an unforgettable experience (even if we finished in last place).