There are plenty of toy robots on the market, but they tend to lack a real sense of personality. With scripted responses and set, repeated movements, they can be hard to love. A team of robotics engineers at Anki have attempted to create a truly loveable robot that relies on AI to give it some real personality.
Cozmo is a cute little robot capable of recognizing and engaging with humans, thanks to a combination of robotics, artificial intelligence and computer vision. According to Anki, Cozmo possesses the kind of personality we usually associate with robots we see in the movies.
"There's been very few applications where a robot has really felt like a character that connects with humans around them," said Boris Sofman, CEO and co-founder of Anki. "For that you really need artificial intelligence and robotics, that's been the missing key."
It might be tiny, but there are lots of complex bits and pieces that go into making Cozmo work the way it does. There are more than 300 individual pieces inside, and the design team claims the robot is capable of processing more data per second than all the Mars Rovers combined.
All that power goes into making the robot react to its surroundings in an organic way. Cozmo snores while it sleeps, and an emotion engine allows it display an array of different expressions on its "face", meaning the palm-sized robot can look impatient when it wants to play a game, and then also display anger if it's beaten at that game.
Speaking of games, it's possible to choose between a range of different ones to play with Cozmo through the companion smartphone app. After a while, though, the app isn't necessarily required, because Cozmo will recognize your face and remember which games you most enjoy.
The more time you spend with it, the more games and actions you unlock, too. Developers even say it will give you a nudge if you're not paying it enough attention, like a tiny robot boyfriend or girlfriend.
So, how did the team an Anki get their robot to express emotions like a human? By taking inspiration from the world of animation. Those eyes, for example, look remarkably similar to the eyes on Eve from Wall-E, and the movement patterns are programmed with the same Maya software professional animators use.
Rather than having hard and fast rules for each action, animators can set a range within which the action can take place. There are also little touches, like the eyes and head following you as you move, or the eyes flashing with recognition when Cozmo sees someone it knows. These are intended to make interacting with Cozmo feel more organic, and make us more likely to connect with the robot.
Pricing starts at US$179.99, with a pre-order price of $159.99. Those prices include the robot, a docking station and three cubes, which are used as a part of Cozmo's desktop games.
Anki's behind-the-scenes video, which includes interviews with designers and the company's co-founders, is below.