12 Oct 2005   |   News

Moi, je suis robot

Technology from one of France’s Grandes Écoles is going towards developing an easy-to-program home robot – with a common touch

Technology from one of France’s Grandes Écoles is going towards developing an easy-to-program home robot – with a common touch.

Smart Toy, to be launched in prototype in early 2006 by start-up company Aldebaran Robotics,  will be priced around €2,000. The project results from a cooperation with ENSTA, the École Nationale Supérieure des Techniques Avancées in Paris.

“Our advantage is that it will be an easy-programming robot, thanks to a new (programming) language created at ENSTA,” says Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of Aldebaran.

With a height of 40 cm, this “android” robot will be able to make a wide range of movements. It will have voice recognition, identify sounds, film with a camera and be powered by battery. “The user can use his voice to order movements to the robot,” says Maisonnier, “or simply manipulate it by hand.” And it has to be aesthetically pleasing: it will be designed at the Creapole School of Paris.

Robotics experts are interested. “Creating a robot with an easy programming language is certainly a good idea,” says Raja Chatila, a specialist of robotics and a research director at the French state Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, and also manager of the Laboratoire d’Analyse et d’Architecture des Systèmes.

“It can be interesting for the education of the people, particularly youngsters fond of programming,” says Chatila. “The average consumer gets rapidly bored with non-evolving robots” – one reason, he thinks, behind the recent market flop of Sony’s much-publicized robo-dog, Aibo.

“Nevertheless, the price of such devices remains an important challenge,” he thinks. For instance, US-based RoboSapien plans a new version of a less sophisticated robot of this style, at just €200.

Maisonnier is not daunted, and has commissioned market research on it.  The current competitors to Smart Toy, he says, sell at €1,500 to €5,000 – and are “much more difficult to program”.

Maisonnier, 47, has a double competency in robotics and in business. Educated at the École Polytechnique  and at “Sup Telecom” in Paris, he is an engineer specialising in robotics and electronics. But after working in the computer industry, he turned to banking, first as computer manager at the Crédit Agricole Bank, then in managing subsidiaries in Brazil, Portugal and Poland.

Aldebaran Robotics  currently employs seven people, with initial assets of €282,000. The founder intends to raise new funds after the launching of the prototype in early 2006.

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