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Real-life WALL-E: Anki’s Cozmo Robot

The small robot — shaped like a miniaturized bulldozer with a CRT monitor for a cockpit — sits in a charging dock, waiting to be awoken. Like Pixar’s adorably anthropomorphic WALL-E, Cozmo falls somewhere between a Mars rover and an animated woodland creature. It’s lifelike enough to evoke sympathy, but still enough of a toy not to teeter too close to the uncanny valley.

With the tap of a smartphone screen, Cozmo comes to life. It makes a subtle motion to indicate it’s shaking off its slumber and begins wheeling over to the edge of the table. When it gets too close, it slams to a halt and looks down over the cliff, emitting a series of terrified chirps. When it wheels back and reorients itself, Cozmo takes a hard look at the other faces in the room. Some are new, but others it remembers from before it fell asleep. While Cozmo sleeps, it snores.

The robot is the latest creation from Anki, a Silicon Valley toymaker best known for building small race cars you can control using a mobile app. The company was founded in 2010 by a trio of Carnegie Mellon graduates with PhDs in robotics. Anki has always considered itself an artificial intelligence and robotics company, even if the average consumer could only see a toy car racing around a track. But now, with Cozmo, there is no doubt. Anki’s first robot fits in the palm of your hand, and it also happens to employ some of the most sophisticated AI software ever made available to consumers.

Cozmo will come with a set of sensor-embedded blocks that are used both to play games with the robot and to help it understand its position in the environment. The robot uses facial recognition technology powered by a camera where its mouth would be to remember different people, and its software will learn and adapt to you over time the more you play with it. Much of Cozmo’s heavier processing tasks are handled by a smartphone that’s been paired over Wi-Fi with Anki’s new mobile app, which frees up the robot itself from having to house more complex computer parts.

The animators are able to designate ranges for qualities like how fast and how high Cozmo raises its lift, moves its head or eyes, and expresses something using sound. "The moment you play animations multiple times, they feel canned," Tappeiner says. The ranges allow Cozmo’s AI to make those decisions on its own.

As far as design goes, WALL-E wasn’t Cozmo’s only inspiration. Anki went through more than 45 iterations, absorbing influences as wide-ranging as Warner Bros.' The Iron Giant and Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy to the Doozers, a race of robot-stiff construction workers from Fraggle Rock. Anki also tried to strike a delicate balance. The team took away Cozmo’s pupils, which ended up making it feel too human, but made sure the robot made eye-contact more frequently like a young child would.


Cozmo | Behind the Scenes

Now, several years after the idea was first conceived, Cozmo is ready for the wider world. The robot is designed for ages eight and up and will sell for $180 in October, with pre-orders starting today. That's expensive when you consider Anki’s Overdrive racing package is only $150. But the company says Cozmo’s advanced software and high-quality hardware make it worth the money. For comparison, Thinkway’s traditional remote-controlled R2-D2 costs $150, while Sphero’s app-controlled BB-8 replica runs $130.

source: anki.com,

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