People have an uneasy relationship with robots. We’re really fascinated by the possibility of smart machines. In the meantime, we’re careful about the existential danger they pose, one encouraged by many years of Hollywood tropes. In the close term, robots supposed to redesign our livelihood with automation promising to replace human workers while the unfaltering march of artificial intelligence puts a machine behind every fast food counter, toll booth, and steering wheel
In comes Cozmo. The palm-sized robot, from San Francisco-based organization Anki, is both an innocuous toy and a strong nullification of that uneasy relationship so adored by film and TV. The $180 bot, which begins delivering on 16th October 2016 is fueled by AI, and the final product is a WALL-E-enlivened identity more akin to a clever pet than a do-everything personal assistant.
Anki isn’t trying to sell us a vision of the future like Apple, Google, and so many other Bay Area tech companies. Instead, it wants to offer an alternative. AI promises to change our lives in drastic ways. With Cozmo, Anki wants to show AI can also be a source of joy and a unique way to deepen our relationship with technology beyond the tired crusades to reinvent productivity and connect the world.
Cozmo is supposed to appeal to young kids and early teenagers. It’s the same demographic Anki targeted with its first product line: a series of smartphone-controlled toy cars that can deftly maneuver a circuit-embedded track. The company, founded by Carnegie Mellon roboticists, has always proclaimed its interest in AI and robotics. Yet until the unveiling of Cozmo earlier this year, it was unclear how a toy car startup could make use of such expertise. Now, it’s evident all the software and hardware experience has paid off.
Not at all like its less refined ancestors in the toy market, Cozmo has advanced software to reinforce its smarts. Anki has customized the robot with what it calls an emotion engine. That means Cozmo can respond to circumstances as a human would, with a full range of emotions from happy and calm to frustrated and bold. If you pick it up, Cozmo’s blue square-shaped eyes will turn to angry slivers and its lift-like arms will rise and fall rapidly to exhibit its displeasure. Agree to play a game with Cozmo, however, and its eyes will turn into upside-down U’s to show glee. When it loses at a contest, it’ll get mad and pound the table.
For now, though, it’s mostly a neat toy designed for kids, while only the most hardcore of robotics fans and programmers will want to pick one up for their office or at-home tinkering projects. But that may be good enough. What Anki wants to accomplish — to bring robotics and AI to everyone, in a kid-friendly package — doesn’t require a sophisticated humanoid bot to help you around the house or an ultra-capable online assistant to manage your entire life. The goal can be achieved with a likable personality that people will develop a fondness for. In that regard, Cozmo easily surpasses the bar.