Anki‘s playful Vector robot began shipping last month, following a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and the team’s wasting no time introducing enhancements and new features. Today it announced an over-the-air update that’ll bring with it new animations, bug fixes, and performance improvements and which will lay the groundwork for integration with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in the weeks ahead.
“Because [Vector] is cloud-connected, [he’s] always learning and improving, with new features and ways for you to engage with him,” Meghan McDowell, director of program management at Anki, wrote in a blog post. “We are truly committed to making Vector the most engaging and entertaining robot you’ve ever interacted with.”
The aforementioned update is scheduled to begin rolling out later this month and adds “hundreds” of animations and reactions, including new responses to voice feedback, such as “good robot” and “good morning.” (My personal favorite is “I love you,” which prompts the little guy to scrunch up its LED-projected “eyes” and bashfully wave its mechanical arm.) New commands are also in tow, like “be quiet,” which lowers the loudspeaker volume.
Additionally, Anki says Vector’s cliff detection — its handy ability to stop short of desk and table edges — now benefits from a more sophisticated internal mapping algorithm that allows it to “project out” hazards. I’ve noticed an improvement in my review unit, which was seeded the update earlier this week. Vector seems a lot more cautious around sheer faces, and when he detects a precarious edge, he scurries away from it a bit more quickly than before.
Rounding out the updates are new sound effects and tweaked behaviors; in my brief testing, Vector has a much easier time understanding commands. Previously, asking the little robot to pick up the Vector Cube (a light-up toy that ships with Vector) had unpredictable results — half the time, the robot idled or appeared to become confused. Now, as long as the ambient lighting’s sufficiently bright, misunderstandings are relatively infrequent.
Alongside the update, Anki teased support for Amazon’s Alexa, which it said will launch “before the holidays” in the U.S. and Canada and early next year in other territories where Vector’s available. Alexa on Vector will afford access to the full range of the assistant’s capabilities, including compatibility with 20,000 smart home devices. And it won’t require a convoluted voice command to invoke — saying “Alexa” will prime Amazon’s assistant to listen for reminders, search queries, shopping list additions, song requests, and more.
“One of the most requested features from users has been an integration with Alexa,” McDowell wrote. “[We’ve been working with Amazon to make it happen.”
Vector starts at $250 and will be available for 30 percent off on Amazon this Saturday.
The audio problem: Learn how new cloud-based API solutions are solving imperfect, frustrating audio in video conferences. Access here