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Anki has created an amazing toy in Cozmo, a cute robot toy that makes use of the company’s deep artificial intelligence research.

It shows that Anki has started to figure out how to marry years of A.I. research with a consumer product that has a real personality. Instead of cold and impersonal, Cozmo is a warm and fuzzy creature, almost like a virtual pet. Cozmo resembles the Eve character in the animated film Wall-E. And yet Cozmo is a very unique character with a very different personality.

Cozmo comes from the same team that created Anki Drive and Anki Overdrive, the race cars games where the cars are smart enough to drive themselves around the track.

I had a lot of fun getting started with Cozmo with my daughter (as you can see in the hands-on videos below). We charged him for a while, and he looked quite peaceful in his charging bed. Then we woke him up using the iPhone app, and he came to life. Cozmo makes cute, squeaky noises, and you can actually make out the words he says. I tapped “add a person” on the app and then typed in my name. Cozmo looked at my face and then said my name. He did the same with my daughter. That was an amazing moment, as I’ve never been recognized by a toy with such expressive eyes before.


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Cozmo can recognize your face.

Above: Cozmo can recognize your face.

Image Credit: Anki

Indeed, Cozmo’s ability to recognize you with computer vision is pretty hard to do. It was developed by a multidisciplinary team of PhD roboticists, seasoned animators, and veteran game developers. Anki describes Cozmo as a “major leap forward in the future of play at the intersection of film, toys, and games.”Cozmo is a real-life robot that you’ve only seen before in something like a movie.

But for a $180 toy, Cozmo doesn’t appear to be all that deep yet. Hopefully, Anki will update Cozmo will more things to do over time. For now, it’s a great novelty, like the Star Wars BB-8 droid robot from Sphero.

We discovered that he does have a mind of his own. He can roam around on a table and then figure out where the edge is. He backs away from it with trepidation. Cozmo scans his environment and makes a lot of different facial expressions with the simple screen on his face. He has highly reactive body language and you can sense his mood. He also has very unique voice tones that show his emotions.

Cozmo is software driven, and Anki plans to keep updating it over time. The first new features are coming in December. Cozmo connects from device to device, using Bluetooth. There’s no data in the cloud, so Cozmo is secure. All told, Cozmo has 300 mechanical parts.

Cozmo comes with three interactive Power Cubes, which the robot can recognize. You can play games such as Quick Tap, Keepaway, or just freeplay.

Hanns Tappeiner, cofounder and president of Anki, told me in an interview that Cozmo is a labor of love for San Francisco-based Anki, which has worked on 45 different versions of the toy over the past four-and-a-half years.

“Cozmo is a real-life robotic character,” said Tappeiner. “We asked ourselves a question. ‘If you take a robot you see in movies and make him real and physical, what would he do?’”

Cozmo co-creator Hanns Tappeiner, cofounder of Anki.

Above: Cozmo co-creator Hanns Tappeiner, cofounder of Anki.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Tappeiner said that Cozmo is based on cutting-edge A.I. technology that the company also used to create its smart toy cars. But while the cars were successful and fun to play with, they had limitations. You couldn’t really turn them into characters, unless you painted cars on them the way that Disney did in the film Cars.

By contrast, Cozmo is born to be playful. It is charming, mischievous, and unpredictable. It recognizes and remembers you. It interacts with you, plays games, and gets to know you over time. Until now, animated characters that we fall in love with have been stuck on the big screen, Tappeiner said. Cozmo combines the best of animation — humor, personality, and emotional connection — with robotics and gameplay.

Powered by advanced robotics, A.I., and computer vision, Cozmo has a brain that processes more data per second than all the Mars rovers combined. Robots with comparable capabilities are found in labs for thousands of dollars and stand several feet tall.

Cozmo uses tech, such as computer vision, animatronics, motors, and A.I. software. It has three ARM-based microprocessors running on Android and iOS.

“We showed Cozmo to some of our friends at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford, and they are freaking out,” Tappeiner said. “So we decided to make a software development kit available, so they can make software to run on it.”

Cozmo’s eyes change color from blue to green when its mood changes. It can yawn, sneeze violently, or shiver.

“We can train him the way you train a puppy,” Tappeiner said. “We can’t tell him to do everything with a command. We can … suggest something that he can do, but he may decide to do something else.”

That means that Cozmo has emergent behavior that isn’t repetitive. And that makes it fun to play with Cozmo over and over.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of behaviors possible,” Tappeiner said.

Cozmo is Anki's next A.I.-driven toy.

Above: Cozmo is Anki’s next A.I.-driven toy.

Image Credit: Anki

It took a long time to get it right. The team looked at big robots, but it wanted the toy to move fast. Big robots that move fast can be dangerous, so the team downsized the design. The final design is made from 340 parts, and it has four motors, a camera, and a OLED display. That’s a lot of stuff for something that behaves a little like a cat. When you put Cozmo on a charger, it goes to sleep and snores.

Cozmo works with an iOS or Android device.

With Cozmo, Anki is seeing another payoff on its long research cycle. Anki was founded in 2010 by three Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute graduates — Boris Sofman, CEO; Mark Palatucci, chief product officer; and Tappeiner — who had already been working on A.I. tech for years. They launched the Anki Drive racing toy in 2013 as one of the first iPhone-based smart toys. They launched Anki Overdrive in 2015, and they’re debuting Anki Supertrucks later this year.

Anki recently raised $52.5 million from J.P. Morgan, and it has raised $185.2 million to date from investors that include Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, and Two Sigma Ventures. Players have logged in 3.2 million hours of gameplay, driven more than 2 million miles, and built nearly 55,000 different track configurations on Overdrive to date.

Here’s where we first woke up Cozmo and taught it to recognize me and my daughter, Marla. Cozmo did a good job recognizing us and saying our names, which we had typed into the iPhone app. We woke it from a sleep state, and then Cozmo came to life, making cute noises as wondrous music played in the background.

Cozmo says my daughter’s name, and then we play “Quick Tap.” In this game, you have to tap the cube when the colors on both cubes match. The first to five points wins the game. When Cozmo loses, he gets mad. And then my wife says we have to tidy up the garage.

Cozmo tries to stack some bricks. It recognizes my daughter Marla’s face, and says her name, “MAARLA,” with a squeeky voice. Then Cozmo looks around and finds a brick and stacks it.

In this video, Cozmo plays with a brick. You can see its expressive eyes and mannerisms.

In this video, you can play “keep away” from Cozmo. Push a brick close to him, and he raises his arms. When he tries to grab it, you pull it away.

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