This Toy Robot Has a Life of its Own: Anki Cozmo Review
If you're buying as a gift, or want to learn how to program, then buy Cozmo RIGHT NOW!
Meet Cozmo, a cute little robot from Anki — makers of the ever popular Overdrive AI cars. Cozmo is an artificially intelligent, robotic companion. In other words, he’s a little toy robot, with a cheeky personality. Read on to see what we thought.
What is Cozmo?
Cozmo is so friendly he wouldn’t be out of place in Disney movie.
Cozmo loves to interact with you. He has a camera to recognise you, and can greet you by name. He has a 128 x 64 pixel display for a face, and he uses this to display emotion. Cozmo is capable of exploring his environment, and as you play with him more, you’ll unlock skills, tricks, and games.
This display is similar to the one in our Arduino OLED gaming tutorial, so you could, in theory, make your own Cozmo – but that would be a lot of work.
Cozmo has his own unique personality. He’ll get bored and do a wheelie, or he’ll setup games to play with you, and get grumpy if he loses. Cozmo can say your name, and can speak words you type in, but his personality comes from noises rather than words. Cozmo will cheer, or mutter a noise, depending on what’s happening — and it’s surprisingly realistic.
Games, Tricks, and More
Out the box, Cozmo comes with three mini cubes. Using his forklift, Cozmo can freely move these cubes about, and even create a mini tower by stacking them on top of each other. Using image recognition software, in conjunction with his camera, Cozmo knows which way up these cubes are supposed be.
Each cube has a light on the top, which is used in various games. There’s a game called quick tap, which is a reaction based game. Then there’s keep away and various other reaction and memory based games. Anki are constantly bringing out new games, and as you play with Cozmo, he’ll unlock even more.
This tiny little robot is also capable of tricks. Cozmo can do wheelies, or use his forklift to maneuver his cubes around. He’ll even play a reversing beep, in a fun robotic way. Leave Cozmo alone for too long, however, and he’ll start to get bored. He’ll make his own entertainment, and this is the most fun to participate in.
Maybe he’ll setup a game to play with you, or he might start humming his own little tunes. Cozmo’s cheeky personality really shines here, as sometimes he’ll sneak up on you and squash your fingers with his forklift — as disturbing as that sounds, it doesn’t hurt, and is all playful.
You can tell how Cozmo is feeling at any given time, as his giant display for a face is very expressive. Anki have done a wonderful job at mimicking emotion. All his expressions are done through his eyes. He’ll frown or squint when concentrating. He’ll go wide-eyed if he’s unsure of something. Even though all this behaviour is programmed in, it does an outstanding job of bringing Cozmo to life.
Make sure you read our guide an what artificial intelligence isn’t if you’re wondering when Cozmo will begin the robot uprising.
Behind the Curtain: The App
While Cozmo is very smart, he’s not that smart. The vast majority of his behaviour is being controlled by your mobile device, using the free iOS or Android app. Using your phone for the complex computing is a genius idea. It means Cozmo is cheaper and simpler to manufacture, and can gain an extra lease of life as and when new models come out. Updates are dead simple as well, as it’s just an app.
The app does a wonderful job at guiding you through the initial setup process. Everything from powering up the cubes, to connecting for the first time is all covered in a simple and informative way.
The app shows you Cozmo’s status, consisting of three parts:
You have to regularly feed, play, and tune Cozmo. Feeding is easy — simply shake a cube until the bar fills up, and then place it where Cozmo can see it. Cozmo will charge over, and “drink” a whole load of the stuff. He’ll then charge around excitedly like a puppy. It’s a wonder he isn’t sick — he probably would be if weren’t for the whole mechanics thing.
Playing with Cozmo is easy, and he’ll make his own games if you don’t, as we’ve seen above.
Finally, there’s maintenance. I’m still not sure what this is for or why it’s required, but it consists of “calibrating” Cozmo’s tracks. I’m not convinced this actually does anything, but it doesn’t take that long.
The app provides access to a variety of features. Not only can you see your robot health, but you can see how many games you’ve unlocked, along with tricks and songs. Where available, new games can be purchased using “spark” credits. These are the equivalent of in-app purchases, or game credits, but you don’t have to buy these with real money. You earn sparks by playing with Cozmo. The more you play, the more you’ll earn.
This constant-play and credit system is where I feel Cozmo is let down. If you’ve not used Cozmo for a while, his play and hunger levels will be low, and so Cozmo will respond accordingly. In this sense he’s more like a cat than a dog — he’ll be glad you’re home, but he’ll remember that you haven’t used him for a month.
If you don’t use Cozmo, you’ll get a push notification from your phone. I personally find this very irritating, so disabled it after the first occurrence.
The Cozmo app has an explorer mode. This is where you can see what Cozmo sees, and can remotely control him like an RC car. You can operate his forklift, pick up his cubes, and generally cruise about all you like.
Hacking Cozmo the Robot
Cozmo comes with a Code Lab. This is a visual programming language, similar to Scratch. By using this code lab directly on your mobile device, you can program Cozmo to do some pretty cool stuff.
You simply drag and drop blocks or actions around, chaining them together into a complete task. This could be a new song, or a funny dance, for example. It works very well, and is incredibly easy to use. There are lots of samples to get you started, and you can always visit the Anki forum [Broken URL Removed] to get help if you’re stuck.
Alternatively, if you’ve got the skills, then you can practically re-program Cozmo using the API and free Software Development Kit (SDK). By writing code in Python, you can access nearly every aspect of Cozmo. Want to put your name on his face? Yep! Speed him up? Sure. What about something totally awesome like have him drive across the room when you get an email? Absolutely. Anki have worked very hard to implement a lot of functionality in the Cozmo API, and it’s free! Everything you need is provided upon purchase.
This SDK is awesome, and rivals features found in scientific reasearch robots, which cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more!
Should You Buy Cozmo?
It’s a bit difficult to recommend Cozmo to everyone. If you’re eight years old, then yes, Cozmo is the coolest robot around. If you’re not so keen on coding, and you won’t be using the code lab, then the novelty can wear off pretty quickly.
Put simply, learning how to code is probably the biggest reason to buy Cozmo as an adult. Costing around $150, Cozmo is certainly on the expensive side. Although, that price does get you a 90 minute battery life, a cheeky personality, and access to an API with practically unlimited options.
If you’re looking for something a bit simpler, or cheaper, don’t forget to take a look at our guide to the best remote control toys .