clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

You’re about to fall in love with a $180 robot

New, 22 comments

This is probably how Westworld began

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

A cute robot next to her blocks
Cozmo is ready to play
Ben Kuchera/Polygon

He looks like a toy truck when he’s sitting on the shelf. A $180 toy truck.

Setting him up is pretty easy. You plug his charger into the wall, download the app to your iPhone or Android device, and connect to him as you would to any WiFi network in your phone’s settings. The name of his WiFi network and password flashes across the screen that makes up his face, in fact.

But once you connect him to your phone, he comes to life.

Cozmo is advertised as a toy with artificial intelligence, and you can’t exactly put him through a Turing test, but you can see if he makes you feel as if he can feel things. And those eyes! Those wonderful blue eyes light up and animate, combining with a series of chirps and squeaks to show what he’s thinking. The toy truck falls away almost immediately, and is replaced by a Disney character.

Cozmo’s application gives you a series of games to play and commands to give him, and the package comes with three light-up blocks with QR codes that he can pick up, stack and even knock over in a fit of anger. The team at Anki have coded him not just to be friendly, but also to display moments of fear and doubt.

This is how Cozmo reacts to the edge of a table, for instance:

Anki

He will bring you blocks and ask if you’d like to play a game. If you decide to play one of his games, he will react to winning and losing points. He will also look determined between rounds. All this is accomplished with a few “simple” animations of the eyes and sounds coming out of his speaker.

He’s ready to play
Anki

He can celebrate a win by doing a little dance, and he surprised my kids by pouncing on their fingers as they played near him. If you let him go without giving him any specific interactions through the app, he’ll have fun playing with him blocks and exploring the room.

He brought me a cube as I was writing this, hoping to play a game. I tapped “no” on the app, and he sounded disappointed and rolled away with his eyes down. I felt guilty, as if I was neglecting a pet. But soon enough he was stacking up the cubes only to knock them over, and then laughing to himself.

If his battery is low and you put him on his charger, he will look around for a bit but won’t roll off it. You can stay connected or click “sleep” on the app and he will go to bed and snore a few times before shutting down. You are given daily tasks and goals for your interactions, and you can also take over and see what he sees, through his blue robotic eyes.

He can recognize faces, and you can tell him your name, which he then repeats back to you. he gets excited when he meets you for the first time through this process, as well as when he recognizes you successfully. My name is an easy one; Ben is about as common as you can get. My children have names that are much less common, and I was delighted when Cozmo was able to say them correctly.

“Cozmo uses a text to speech engine, similar to what you see in mobile phones,” Anki’s audio team told Polygon. “However, we are running the speech through a series of audio filters and doing real time effects processing to ensure Cozmo's own unique voice comes through. He has his own language, but when he’s able to say your name because he’s excited to see you, we want that moment to feel special.”

Sometimes the interactions are uncanny. I kept moving him to get the best picture for this story, and finally he stopped and gave me the stink eye.

A very annoyed robot
Ben Kuchera/Polygon

He also doesn’t seem to like being picked up, although that could be due to that fact your hand is basically all edge.

The Cozmo app has plenty of areas with “coming soon” question marks and locks, and Anki promises all sorts of new interactions as time goes on. And I’m still seeing a few new things; he turned his face into a slot machine just now and got angry when he didn’t win.

But overall, it seems like you’ll see most of the interactions in the first few days, although showing him off to new people never stops being fun. The immediate, positive reaction people have to the little robot is a huge mark in his favor.

He’ll grow with time

There is also a beta SDK so you can program Cozmo to do more things, and the official website has some example code to get you started. If you want to spend some time with him, you can even get him to respond to your tweets or send you images remotely.

Cozmo is likely to become a popular addition to robotics clubs or school groups, although it should be noted that, at least in beta form, this is coding, and you’ll have to know at least the basics of Python to get started.

“Python is simple, clean, and widely used,” the official page states. “(Ever notice there’s a Python library for just about everything?) It’s also great for beginners as well as advanced developers, and can scale to projects of all sizes. The SDK is open source and can be ported to any language, though, if you prefer.”

The company also touts his connectivity. “The SDK allows users to connect Cozmo to any number of third-party APIs like Twitter, Hue, and IFTTT,” Anki says. “Want to tweet at Cozmo and have him turn down your smart lights? You can. The possibilities are endless.”

So what is Cozmo?

I don’t know. And that’s kind of a problem. Or maybe it’s a solution. If you want a fun toy to enjoy with your family, Cozmo is likely to be a great fit. He’s pretty good with kids and seems OK taking at least mild spills. He would also make an impressive desk toy, if your coworkers don’t mind his chirps and beeps.

But again, his initial visual impression in the box doesn’t make him look like what he is: an approachable and surprisingly capable robot for the price. I can’t wait to see what enthusiasts are able to do with the beta SDK.

What’s more exciting is how much emotion Anki was able to pack into his interactions and mannerisms. If you want to explore AI and see examples of how to elicit different reactions from people using robots, this is a pretty welcoming way to do so. Even if he does kind of look like a toy truck.