Anki Cozmo – the real WALL-E?
Anki, the makers of the best robotic car game, Overdrive, have taken their robotics skills to the next level with Cozmo.
Remember when Tommy said that there was more interesting developments to come? Well, it seems that he meant sooner rather than later.
Cozmo the robot is the latest creation from Anki, a Silicon Valley toymaker best known for building small race cars you can control using a mobile app. The company was founded in 2010 by a trio of Carnegie Mellon graduates with PhDs in robotics.
Anki have put the robotic knowledge that they’ve honed with Overdrive and squeezed it all in to a cute little dozer-bot called Cozmo.
Cozmo looks just as adorable as the Pixar animated WALL-E, with the main difference being that you can actually own Cozmo.
Cozmo – Artificial Intelligence
Anki has always considered itself an artificial intelligence and robotics company so don’t let the racing car game fool you. If you have read my Overdrive articles you will have seen how clever those little cars actually are.
The great news is that now, with Cozmo, there is no doubt about Anki’s AI chops. Cozmo uses some of the most sophisticated AI software ever made available to consumers.
Hanns Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president says:
In the very beginning, when we started working on the first version of [Anki] Drive, we realized that characters and personalities are a big deal… The problem we had was that cars aren’t the best form factor to bring personalities out.”
Anki kept the idea under wraps whilst they worked away getting it to the point where they could
bring a character to life which you would normally only see in movies,”
Now, several years after the idea was first conceived, Cozmo is ready for the wider world.
The little robot takes the form of a miniaturised bulldozer with a CRT-esque monitor for a face.
The cuteness starts from once it’s sat in its charging dock. Cozmo will snooze and snore, until its ready for some more playful action.
With the tap of a smartphone screen, Cozmo comes to life. It makes a subtle motion to indicate it’s shaking off its slumber and then begins wheeling over to the edge of the table. When it gets too close, it slams to a halt and looks down over the cliff, emitting a series of terrified chirps.
When it wheels back and reorients itself, Cozmo will take a hard look at the faces in the room. Some are new, but others it remembers from before it fell asleep. Cozmo is always learning.
Picking up Cozmo can result in an angry head shake. If it doesn’t feel like playing a game, it would react to your finger by trying to catch it using its ‘arms’. If it starts to feel bored the little bot will start playing classic game Breakout on its the display.
The real appeal of Cozmo, though, comes in what Anki is calling an emotion engine. This is the cleverness that powers a wide range of different states the robot is capable of emulating.
The states of happy, calm, brave, confident, and excited, etc are derived from combinations of the big five personality traits used to describe the human psyche. By mixing and mashing these traits as if they were colours, Cozmo can replicate a surprisingly complex range of human-like emotions.
Anki has drawn from the expertise of former Pixar animator Carlos Baena, who was hired last year to help the company hone its animation. This will explain the WALL-E style expressions then.
Saying that though, WALL-E wasn’t Cozmo’s only inspiration. Anki went through more than 45 iterations, absorbing influences as wide-ranging as Disney’s The Iron Giant and Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy to the Doozers, a race of robot-stiff construction workers from Fraggle Rock (and now I have the theme tune in my head!).
Anki also tried to strike a delicate balance. The team took away Cozmo’s pupils, which ended up making it feel too human, but made sure the robot made eye-contact more frequently like a young child would.
The company utilises Maya, an industry-standard animation tool, to render various actions for Cozmo.
We wrote a huge amount of software inside of Maya to allow our animators not to animate a movie, but an actual robot,”
Anki requires its animators to test out each new sequence on a physical Cozmo prototype at their desks. I bet that was both awesome and cute in equal measure.
The animators are able to designate ranges for qualities like how fast and how high the caterpillar robot raises its lift, moves its head or eyes, and expresses something using sound. The ranges allow Cozmo’s AI to make those decisions on its own.
Cozmo play learning
Cozmo will come with a set of sensor-embedded blocks that are used both to play games with the robot and to help it understand its position in the environment.
The robot uses facial recognition technology powered by a camera which is located where a mouth would be. This is how it gathers visual information and then remember different people. Its software will learn and adapt to you over time the more you play with it.
Much of Cozmo’s heavier processing tasks are handled by a smartphone that’s been paired over Wi-Fi with Anki’s new mobile app. This really does free up the robot itself from having to house more complex computer parts.
Cozmo snoozes to sleep. Battery life is two hours, and it can be charged in 8 to 10 minutes.
Cozmo price and availability
The robot is designed for ages seven and up and costs $180 when it goes on sale in October. You can head over now and take advantage of the discounted pre-orders that start today at $160
That might seem expensive when you look at Anki’s Overdrive racing package which goes for $150. You have to consider Cozmo’s advanced software and high-quality hardware though.
I’m sure that Anki Cozmo will feature highly on Christmas wishlists, as well as Overdrive with the new SuperTrucks. Anki might clear up this year as far as tech games go.