Cozmo AI Robot Brings Wall-E to Life

The new Cozmo robot toy from Anki uses an emotion engine and artificial intelligence to come to life, play games, and evolve over time.


While Anki was producing Anki Drive and Anki Overdrive, two of the best selling toys on Amazon, the San Francisco-based company had another trick up its sleeve.

Meet Cozmo, an AI toy robot that is playful, intelligent and able to express a range of emotions thanks to a complex emotion engine and his two oval eyes. Starting today, you can pre-order Cozmo from Anki.com. Cozmo, designed for kids ages 7-12, will ship in October 2016 in the U.S. for $179.99.

Anki will at some point release a software development kit (SDK) to let developers ratchet up Cozmo even more. Python is the main language, Tappeiner said, and the SDK will be available for Linux, Mac OS, Windows and more.

A cross between Wall-E and Eve from the popular Pixar movie, Cozmo has a mechanical arm that can push, lift and stack interactive “power cubes” that are used in a number of games he likes to play. Hanns Tappeiner, co-founder and president of Anki, said Cozmo went through more than 45 complete design iterations over the last four and a half years. The final design is made from 340 parts, four motors, a camera, an OLED display, and much more.

“Robots in movies - Wall-E, R2D2, Johnny 5 - all have a well-defined, interesting personality,” Tappeiner said in an interview with Robotics Trends. “A huge group of people worked on defining how that robot should work and interact with people. When it comes to robots in real life, people don’t spend enough time on the personality - or there’s no personality at all.”

Cozmo Likes to Play Games

Similar to Anki Drive and Anki Overdrive, you need a phone or tablet to initially wake up Cozmo - he even snores while sleeping on his docking station. Tappeiner said most interaction, however, happens directly with the robot.

Cozmo’s favorite thing to do is play games with you. Quick Tap, for example, is a game that tests your reaction time. Two power cubes will light up different colors. Once the colors on both power cubes match, whoever taps the cube first, Cozmo or you, gets a point. And Cozmo hates losing. If he loses repeatedly, he’ll even throw a tantrum by throwing his bulldozer-like arm up in a tizzy - sadly, just like a kid.

You’ll unlock more games and features the more you play with Cozmo. Cozmo also speaks his own language, Tappeiner said. He’ll be able to say names, but he’ll emit robot-like sounds in all other situations.

Emotion Engine Brings Cozmo to Life

Tappeiner said kids react to Cozmo like he’s human, anthropomorphizing him quickly thanks to his emotions and movements. “During our testing of Cozmo with children, two girls got the hang of Quick Tap very quickly. They kept playing in beginner mode, not knowing that they could change the level of difficulty,” Tappeiner said. “The girls kept winning, and Cozmo got very annoyed and sad. One of the girls wanted to play again, and the other girl said, ‘hey, let him win. He’s really sad.’”

Don’t worry, Cozmo won’t become a depressed robot. Tappeiner said constant losing won’t affect his long-term personality. “Cozmo doesn’t get to a point where he doesn’t want to play,” Tappeiner said. “The main desire is to interact with people, and this is weighed in the software by far the highest.”

To express these emotions realistically, Anki tapped the expertise of former Pixar animator Carlos Baena. The animation team used a custom version of Maya, an industry-standard animation tool, to render various actions for Cozmo. “We wrote a huge amount of software inside of Maya to allow our animators not to animate a movie, but an actual robot,” Tappeiner said. Anki requires its animators to test out each new sequence on a physical Cozmo prototype at their desks.

Cozmo Bored

If you mess with Cozmo by pushing him or flipping him on his side, his emotion engine kicks in and he’ll make sad noises and squint his eyes. If Cozmo gets bored, he’ll play games with himself on his screen. If he’s having fun playing games with you, his eyes will light up and he’ll want to play longer. If he successfully stacks his power cubes, his emotion engine will receive a boost in confidence and affect his future behavior.

“We want to make him feel alive and not like a big if-then-else statement,” Tappeiner said. “Every input trigger affects him. If he sees a lot of people he already knows, he’ll want to play a game with them that maybe he’s never played before. If he meets people he doesn’t know, he’ll still want play with them, but maybe a game he already knows well.”

Cozmo has cliff detection, along with facial recognition to track people’s faces and analyze their moods. If he detects a cliff at the end of a table, for example, his emotion engine will experience a drop in braveness as he knows cliffs are dangerous.

Cozmo AI Robot

Tappeiner said Anki is looking at adding voice recognition to Cozmo down the road. Cozmo will come up to you and say “tap, tap” as his way of saying he wants to play Quick Tap. With voice recognition, he would understand you if you asked him to play games.

The Power of Eye Contact

One of the biggest design changes for Cozmo is his eyes. Cozmo originally had “pupils,” which were helpful when interacting with people. Cozmo’s pupils helped people tell where he was looking. However, Tappeiner said, the pupils made Cozmo feel too human.

“He didn’t feel robotic enough, so the animators changed the size and ratio of the eyes and that sort of has the same affect as the pupils.”

Tappeiner also said the amount of eye contact Cozmo makes with you is important in building his human-like personality. Originally Cozmo only made eye contact when he wanted to play a game, for example. But he wouldn’t look at you otherwise.

“It felt very detached. One of the things we realized is that making eye contact with people very frequently is a very big deal,” said Tappeiner. “If Cozmo thinks he did something cool, he’ll look at you and look excited. And it completely changes how people perceive the robot. It helped him be perceived as a dog or toddler.”




About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.




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