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You’ll Fall For Anki's Tiny Cozmo Robot

By Victor Thomson , Oct 14, 2016 11:59 PM EDT
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Cozmo, a new companion toy robot developed by Anki, is the latest and one of the best from the company.

Developing Anki's Cozmo Robot

Cozmo, with its $180 price tag, is cheap compared with previous pet robots, like the robodog Aibo from Sony that costs over $1500.  According to Gizmodo, the company behind Cozmo, Anki, is better known for its race car toys. But Anki CEO Boris Sofman explained that, in fact, the car system was always just a way for the company to make a profit that could be reinvested in developing its real project, Cozmo. The last few years have been spent by Anki developing the tiny toy robot.

Anki even hired Pixar animators to ensure the companion robot Cozmo has an expressive and friendly face. The animators also studied Cozmo's design in order to make sure the robot moves in a flexible and cool manner, more similar to Wall-E than Aibo. The team of developers also created an artificial intelligence (AI) system for Cozmo, so the robot is able to recognize faces and emotions.

In fact, one of the features that make Cozmo so endearing is its ability to recognize faces. The companion robot has its own preferences, like a real pet. You will certainly fall for Cozmo, when it picks you out of a crowd and rolls towards you, saying your name.

Former Pixar animator Carlos Baena manages the company's animation team. In order to design how the robot interacts and moves, the team uses Maya 3D software. Cozmo's eyes show off Baena's Pixar legacy. Users can tell with just one glance if the robot is sad, happy, in deep concentration or angry.

Cozmo's Easy Setup

According to Engadget, setting up the Cozmo companion robot is fairly straightforward. All you have to do is to place it on its charger and install the app. Then you can connect to Cozmo by using the app. During the setup process, you'll be asked to connect to Cozmo's Wi-Fi network for several times if you need to install any updates.

You'll definitely need an adult to deal with the initial Cozmo setup, even if the companion robot itself is kid-friendly. Cozmo "wakes up" once you're connected and leaves his charger. After the initial setup, the robot starts to explore the surrounding environment like a curious kid.

Through advanced robotics and AI, Anki has created a robot capable of making its own choices.  However, Cozmo is still limited in its interactions. In order to use the robot, you need to have the Cozmo app installed on your Android or iOS mobile device.  

The simple setup procedure also involves placing Cozmo's cubes included with purchase where the companion robot can see them. Cozmo uses the faces of humans and the cubes in order to make itself spatially aware of its surrounding environment. After the initial setup, the robot always boots up the same way. Cozmo's little eyes open slowly and music plays over the app.

What Cozmo Can Do

When it wakes up the robot looks as if it is drowsy and is coming awake slowly from a deep sleep. Then, the music changes and Cozmo rolls out of its charging cradle. Now, the companion robot is in its play mode and users can choose from four "games" option.

By staring at Cozmo until it memorizes your visage, you can teach it new faces.  You can drive the robot around with the app called "Freeplay." The other two games involve cubes.  Cozmo also has some  various "habits" that you can teach it via the app, such as knocking over cubes, stacking cubes and using cubes to pop sweet wheelies.

The potential of Cozmo is amazing even if the current apps may seem limited. Its behaviors never feel scripted and the tiny companion robot is certainly a smart creature. But the moment when our AI companion robots will be as smart as our pets might still be far away. As just a toy robot, Cozmo is ultimately incapable of that kind of meaningful relationships you might develop with a living pet.

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