Cozmo is the next robotic toy from Anki, the company behind the Overdrive racing cars. Cozmo, though, is quite different. This is robotics let loose and off the track.
Place Cozmo on the desk and he starts trundling around making a mental map of his environment. He does this by using a camera to detect edges and three power cubes with AR markers for orientation. The cubes also include motion sensors so he knows when they are moved.
What’s most striking about Cozmo is not all the tech though, it’s the characterisation and personality here. To say that Cozmo looks a little like characters from Pixar films like WALL-E is to miss the point. Cozmo is more than these on-screen characters because he has to act in the real world.
In place of the linear performances of our animated heroes, Cozmo reacts and responds to his environment with a smooth uninterrupted stream of actions and responses — all backed by an equally smooth swirling orchestral score.
The same animation tools have been used to create Cozmo’s motions as are used in feature films and video-games, only here the motion is executed with motors and plastic belts rather than pixels. Cozmo has an app but he isn’t controlled directly by it.
Instead the app tells you how you are progressing as you slowly unlock more and more of Cozmo’s ability. The app also gives Anki the opportunity of updating Cozmo with more content, moves and voices in future releases.
Encountering Cozmo for the first time is disarming. It’s the eye contact he makes that feels very different, like the first time you picked up a Wii Remote and hit a virtual tennis ball. Cozmo sustains this contact throughout other activities by stopping now and again to look up and check you are still there — much like a small child or puppy would.
It will take longer to fully assess Cozmo but first impressions are strong. Cozmo is out in the US this month and not confirmed for other territories yet — I expect UK to be a likely contender for 2017 though.