Drawing from artificial intelligence (AI) advances that often don't trickle down to consumers out of the commercial sector, the company behind the Overdrive robotic cars is preparing to ship an animated little bot. Anki's Cozmo, with its machine learning and dynamic personality, is redefining the term "bringing toys to life."
Anki describes Cozmo as being a real-life version of the type of robot companions seen in films. When watching the little soda-can-sized robot take in the world around it, Pixar's Wall-E comes to mind.
Cozmo can get around the real world using a set of caterpillar tracks, the continuous tracking technology that's often employed in tank designs. It has a fork lift for picking up objects and putting them down.
Thanks to its AI and computer vision, Cozmo can recognize faces and its own animated countenance will light up when the robot sees someone familiar. The robot also remembers roles along with faces, so it will respond differently to people who regularly engage it and those who don't.
Anki claims that Cozmo's artificial mind can crunch more data than the combination of all NASA's Mars Rovers. The robot was developed by a team of roboticists, animators and game developers in an effort that Anki CEO Boris Sofman said took "45 mechanical iterations."
"This was a huge, hugely complex problem of mechanical engineering, industrial design and character design," said Sofman. "The goal to make a character that had the size, shape and capabilities, form factor and practicality of a character that wanted to do all that we could do."
While Anki was working with Apple and Tim Cook to market the Overdrive cars back in 2013, the team was already conceptualizing Cozmo. In the same year after two years of toying with the idea, Sofman said Anki began to put its weight behind Cozmo.
From the start, Anki wanted Cozmo to feel like a character that was coming to life. The team drew inspiration from the works and "rich creative characters" of DreamWorks and Pixar, said Sofman.
"We started to ask what it would take to make them come to life physically, but not just in terms of the quality of the emotions they express, but to truly understand the environment around them," Sofman added.
All of that work has finally culminated into a product that is just months away from market, as Cozmo ships in October. Consumers can preorder the $180 Cozmo from Anki's website.