Remember NAO, the robot that stole the show at the recent Robotville event? Well, NAO's already impressive set of abilities have just been extended with Aldebaran Robotics releasing a new version of its cute little humanoid robot. Around two thousand NAOs are used for research and education purposes all around the world but now that the NAO Next Gen is ready, the founder and chairman of Aldebaran Robotics, Bruno Maisonnier, hopes to see it become useful to humans in a more direct sense. It's new abilities are to make it even more versatile and, among other things, prepare it for working with autistic children and the elderly.

We covered NAO in detail in 2009, and since then not much has changed on the outside. We are glad this is the case because NAO could not get more likable. However, the interesting part is what's hiding under the hood. For one thing, the Next Gen now has more computing power at its disposal and handles multitasking much better thanks to an on-board 1.6 GHz Atom processor. Also, NAO's vision has received an upgrade with two HD cameras and the ability to process two video streams simultaneously. This improves face and object recognition even under changing lighting conditions. There is also a sonar distance sensor, two infrared emitters and receivers, nine tactile and eight pressure sensors. All in all, a pretty impressive set of tools that enable the robot to better navigate its environment.

NAO Next Gen has four microphones that allow it to pinpoint where a voice command, or any other noise for that matter, is coming from. New voice recognition software called Nuance coupled with a "word spotting" functionality allows the robot to recognize sentences or isolate a single word from a whole string of words in a sentence. Add a text to speech capability and fluency in 8 languages and NAO becomes an interesting partner for discussions.

And this is not the end of software related advancements. The new NAO now boasts a system to prevent limb/body collisions, an improved torque control mechanism and an adaptive walking algorithm. Should the 23 inch (59 cm) tall humanoid robot be pushed off balance, the fall will be automatically cushioned. Once a worrying shift in NAO's center of mass is detected, all motion-related actions are instantly put on hold and the robot uses its limbs to protect itself against the impact, just like a human would.

NAO packs a 27,6-watt-hour battery that the company says provides the robot with 1.5 or more hours of autonomy, depending on usage.

Aldebaran Robotics is now working on educational content for the robot to be able to work with high school students and on specialized software for personal well-being related applications. That said, the best thing about NAO is that it is open to 3rd party developers. They now have a more versatile and powerful tool to play with, so we expect them to do some interesting things with NAO in the future.

Here's a brief video from Alderbaran Robotics showcasing NAO's features.