Anki Vector: Edge-based smarts in a cute companion robot for $250
There’s a new Kickstarter project today and it’s right up my alley. If you’re into home robots, deep learning, neural networks, knowledge graphs or a digital assistant with personality, then it’s likely right up your alley, too. Today, Anki introduced Vector, a follow up to its small little mobile robot, Cozmo, that has sold nearly one million units and was the number one best-selling toy on Amazon in 2017 in U.S., U.K. & France according to Anki.
On the outside, Vector looks like Cozmo. Inside, though? There’s a ton more technology inside Vector. The main difference is that when it came to Cozmo, much of the robot’s processing took place on a connected smart phone and it was used through an app. Vector needs an app for the initial setup process, but after that, the cute little guy processes everything on an embedded Qualcomm Snapdragon chip or through the cloud.
Essentially with Vector, and with Cozmo before him — but to a lesser extent — Anki has created both a robotic product and a robotic platform.
The building blocks of that platform include some of the technologies I mentioned earlier, along with natural language processing, computer vision and person recognition and Anki’s unique “emotion interface”; that last bit is what makes Anki’s companion robots easier to relate to.
To add the emotion factor, Anki hired an animator from Pixar Studios to help in this regard; first with Cozmo and now with Vector. In fact, that team has expanded. Anki now has a dozen people that help digitally render the robot’s expressions, movements, sounds and personality.
It’s a clever strategy because animators have been doing this kind of work for years; they know how to capture and recreate character nuances. Sure you could use engineers and programmers, but is that the best fit? After using Cozmo and seeing his personality, I’d say no. That’s not a slight against talented coders by any means. It’s just an observation on Anki’s smart approach.
Put all of this technology and character together and what do you get with Vector? You get an autonomous companion that can see, hear and speak. Vector is always on and knows when his battery is running low. He’ll hightail it back to his charging base if that happens.
That may happen often because with a robot this small — Vector’s footprint is roughly 2” by 3” — there’s not much room for a battery. Expect about an hour of Vector roaming around; more if you let him stand still and just ask for the weather and such. Oh, he has touch capabilities too; apparently Vector likes it when you pet his head as you can see in this video overview.
Out of the box, Vector has all of the basics of a mobile companion. He’ll greet you, play games, answer questions based on Anki’s knowledge graph and more. It’s all on a small scale but it’s still impressive given the $ 250 cost. Early backers on Kickstarter will save $ 50 on Vector and get their robot on October 9, a few days before he shows up in retail stores on October 12. Anki says it will let the Kickstarter crowd decide on what new features they should next add to Vector.
If you know a little Python, you’ll be able to expand Vector’s skills when the SDK arrives around the end of the year. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be able to add more smarts to Vector: Anki tells me that 15,000 developers have signed up to develop programs for Cozmo, so I’d expect to see many of them create apps for Vector as well.
Even if robots aren’t your thing — don’t worry, I forgive you! — Vector should still impress, simply because of the technologies built in to a small, accessible product that won’t break the bank. We’re not yet to the point where every home has a robot, but you can see where Anki is heading thanks to the cloud, mobile processing advancements and sensors in a single smart package.