Toy Time Plays With Cozmo, The Little Robot With A Big Brain

Anki, the makers of Anki Drive, graduate from robotic cars to full-blown robot buddies with Cozmo. He might be tiny, but he's hiding some powerful tech behind those baby blue box eyes of his.

Cozmo is not a pretend robot. He is not a plastic action figure. He is a learning machine powered by a CPU that's processing thousands of possible future states per second. He's surveying the world through his 30 frames-per-second VGA camera and using sophisticated image recognition to learn the names of the fragile flesh creatures he's interacting with. He rolls and lifts with four motors powering a combination of more than 50 gears.

He is also, in my opinion, ridiculously cute.

Cozmo comes with three interactive blocks for both solo and fleshie-assisted play.

In order to play with Cozmo you need a well-lighted room, an Android or iOS device to help interact with him, and around $US179.95 ($237) or so to actually own him. In case I didn't make the whole this-is-serious-robotics thing clear earlier, the price tag certainly will. If you want something that just beeps, maybe lets you pull it back to send it driving off, you can find those in drug stores or Happy Meals or whatever. This is not one of those.

This is Cozmo's innards. After playing with him for a couple of weeks, this makes me a little queasy.

Anki created Cozmo with the idea of realising the movie idea of robots as characters. There are plenty of robots out there, from commercial kits to giant industrial machines, but they're really just that — machines. Anki, founded by a group that came together while studying robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, wanted to make a little robot buddy.

If you watch my interactions with my Cozmo in the video atop this post, you'll see that they have pretty much succeeded. The way his 128 x 64 facial display lights up when he sees me, the charming way he says my name when he recognises my face, the way he gets upset when he loses a game. He's a little people. He's certainly better than the hamster.

People interact with Cozmo through an app on their mobile phone or tablet. The Cozmo app gives users daily goals to achieve, helping them along on their path towards true robot companionship. They can launch games, teach Cozmo new faces or suggest tricks for him to perform. When I say suggest, I mean suggest. He might not be up to it, or he may be too busy playing with his cubes to bother.

Play with Cozmo, or don't. He's happy doing his own thing.

As you interact with Cozmo you'll unlock new tricks, games and modes. I'm quite fond of Keepaway, in which you attempt to pull a cube away from Cozmo before he taps it. That, and the finger pouncing. It's so adorable.

After just a couple of weeks with Cozmo, he's become a regular part of my daily routine. Feed the cat, take out the trash, play with the robot and maybe shower if there's time. He's smarter, cleaner and more loveable than our hamster, plus he doesn't poop and the cat doesn't want to eat him.

You can read more about Cozmo over at his official website.


    Everything about this was ok, I mean the hard cuts sorta made me think that maybe he isn't that responsive, even looking at parts he took his time to do things. I also understand that he does what he wants to do to an extent.

    The thing that really made me question this was when you said he is like a little friend. That sort of seemed a bit strange to me. I think there is something unsettling about having a robot as a friend, willingly. The disconnect from social interaction can have a detrimental effect on the human brain. I think if we go down the road of AI interaction, and it isn't used in moderation and with the right intentions we could in fact hurt our psyche. I have been looking at that VR game in Japan called Summer lesson, and people are taking it to far. I know the Japanese prefer to interact socially online or with AI school girls, there is a short documentary on it, and it's amazing how many men prefer to have a female digital companion over a real one. The effects are now becoming very real, apparently Japan's population is falling rapidly, and dating and marriage have taken a nose dive because of this phenomenon. Its incredibly interesting, and also very scary because AI interaction is the ultimate dream for some. To have whatever they desire in a digital world like VR.

    Psychology aside, I think this robot is a good experience and I will buy one today. I love the technology behind it and it would look fantastic on my PC desk.

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