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Anki's tiny Cozmo robot is a Pixar character made real

Engadget Engadget 27/06/2016 Devindra Hardawar
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Best known for its sleek and intelligent remote controlled cars, Anki is stepping into new territory with its latest product, a small robot toy named Cozmo. If you've seen Wall-E, you've already got a good sense of its personality. Thanks to a combination of artificial intelligence, robotic movement designed by former Pixar animators and computer vision technology, Cozmo is curious and incredibly expressive, with the ability to interact with the world around it. It's smart enough to recognize your face and remember you over time, and it can explore its environment and play games with its smart block accessories. But it's most interesting feature? It's not a perfect robot, and that's just how Anki want's it.

"Perfect is boring," Anki CEO and co-founder Boris Sofman said in an interview. "With the cars, the first version was boring because it was too good. With Cozmo, we wanted him to be imperfect. When he goes and fails to do something, that's not a bad thing... As long as you can detect what happens, it's a good opportunity to show off the emotions it generates."

Sofman says the company was inspired by how toddler and pets interact with the world. They can't speak, but they can clearly explore and interact with you. Like a child, Cozmo slowly learns to recognize people and explore its world, and over time it learns to play games. But also like a child, it gets frustrated when things don't work out. Instead of being annoying, though, those little personality quirks -- like gloating when it wins a game, and getting angry when you beat it -- make it more endearing.

Cozmo is a tiny thing, which adds to its vulnerability. It's light, has a small display up front for its eyes, a single articulating arm to pick up objects, and uses two tiny treads to get around. Eventually, you'll be able to replace its arm mechanism with other types of appendages. Cozmo communicates through a combination of Star Wars-like bot noises (yes, in many ways this is the Droid you've been looking for), and expressive movements. It relies on an iPhone and Android app to have your phone do much of the processing, which also plays a soundtrack perfectly suited to Cozmo's mood.

While we've seen plenty of toys claiming AI and robotic capabilities in the past, Cozmo feels unique. I'll admit, I fell for it pretty quickly during a brief demo. As it was charging, it "slept" in a tiny dock, complete with a snoring sound effect and sleeping animation that can only be described as adorable. When it woke up, it looked around the table and come up right to the edge, quickly realizing it couldn't go any further. When it recognized my face, it came right up to me with a suspicious look. I plugged in my details into the Anki app, which helps it remember you. Like a child, it will recognize people it's already met and be a bit more hesitant around strangers.

You can pre-order Cozmo today from Anki's website for $180, and it'll be widely available in October.


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