Who said old robots can’t learn new tricks? Just two years and change following its debut, Anki’s Cozmo — a cute companion with an AI-powered personality — is getting a milestone update to ring in the New Year.

The first spotlight feature in 3.1 Holiday Release (as Anki’s calling it) is Cozmo Performs. It replaces Cozmo Says, which let Cozmo owners type in words or short sentences for Cozmo to recite, with a gallery or preprogrammed moves and tricks for Cozmo to act out. States like “Happy,” “Dizzy,” “Frustrated,” and “Furious” can be storyboarded and accompanied with text, the latter of which Cozmo’s text-to-speech engine synthesizes aloud.

“You can [essentially] write a script for Cozmo,” MJ Chun, product management director at Anki, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We’ve internally had a lot of fun with this feature, and we’re delighted to see what [users] will come up with.”

The update’s second headliner is Free Time, which displays live footage from Cozmo’s camera. An accompanying feed indicates Cozmo’s state of being — i.e., exploring, setting up a game, or preparing to pounce on a finger — and an augmented reality layer shows which faces, if any, Cozmo detects in-frame.

Anki Cozmo

Above: The Cozmo Performs dashboard.

Image Credit: Anki

“It gives you a glimpse into what Cozmo’s seeing, thinking, and doing as he interacts with you,” Chun explained. “You get a better understanding of his vision system.”

That’s not all that’s in tow with the Holiday Release. Starting December 5, Cozmo’s companion app for Android and iOS will showcase a rotating collection of minigames that leverage Cozmo’s unique abilities. Tread Trekker lets a player take charge of his compass, while Light Show gets him grooving to ambient tunes. Meanwhile, Rebounce — a take on Brick Breaker — has owners move their heads left and right to bounce a ball on Cozmo’s LED display, and Cube Mix Up, a community-created project, instructs them to jumble up cubes in order to stump Cozmo.

“Kids love playing games and are a little competitive,” Chun said. “The team spent a lot of time working on mini games and activities … Every game can be remixed.”

Updates galore

There’s more to Cozmo than fun and games, of course.

A forthcoming book — Create with Cozmo — will explain the underlying mechanics of each of Cozmo’s core functions and provide programming tutorials for Code Lab. It’ll be available for $20 on Anki’s website later today, and soon after on Amazon in the U.S. and John Lewis in the U.K.

Additionally, a new mode — appropriately dubbed EDU mode — will launch Cozmo straight into the aforementioned Code Lab and offer education-specific features, like the ability to manage the light-up cube accessories that ship with Cozmo.

Anki Cozmo

“The idea is to teach kids computational thinking and the basics of coding,” Chun said.

Toward that end, ID Tech, one of the world’s largest tech camps, is now offering an additional Cozmo course for summer 2019 for a total of three. And Anki’s teamed up with Carnegie Science Center to develop a nine-lesson curriculum for Cozmo that’ll launch in the coming months.

In related education news, Cozmo was used in the inaugural World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth (WAICY) and in Cognimates AI platform for children, a project that graduated out of MIT’s Personal Robotics group.

It’s been a banner year for Cozmo. Since November 2017 alone, the robotic complement to Anki’s newly launched Vector gained no fewer than ten games via over-the-air upgrades, including a variation of hot potato and table tennis. That’s not to mention the more than a dozen activities that rolled out to Code Lab, like mini golf, a song composer, and a compliment generator.

Anki Cozmo

Above: A look at Cozmo’s new Free Time feature.

Image Credit: Anki

Some changes have been subtler than others. For example, the team improved the visibility of Code Lab’s featured content by slotting it alongside games in the app’s Play section. It reordered Cozmo’s tricks — e.g., stack a cube or give a fist bump — so that easier-to-access tricks are unlocked first. And it made the overall app experience brighter, more graphical, and less menu-driven — in other words, more appropriate for Cozmo’s core demographic.

Another tweak? Deemphasizing daily interaction. An earlier version of Cozmo’s software rewarded users who played with the robot every day, but the team found that most owners were playing with Cozmo during the weekend. As a result, many of them were struggling to unlock new features with the app’s virtual currency, Sparks.

“We’ve tried to make sure there’s always something new for Cozmo so that you can engage with him in different ways,” Chun told VentureBeat.

The Holiday Release, she said, strikes a better balance.

“Having fun is the focus … [We] did a lot of testing and design work [to] make it clear that Cozmo’s about games and tricks and less about [maintenance],” Chun said.