Meet Cozmo, “the Coolest Robot Ever”

Artificial Intelligence in a Plaything

Artificial intelligence is niggling its way into more products and at more levels. For example, here’s a toy truck that can learn while it plays. This week, Anki, a San Francisco start-up known for smartphone-controlled toy race cars has announced an intelligent fist-sized toy robot called Cozmo.

Cozmo resembles a child’s toy bulldozer with two large — and sometimes sad-looking — blue eyes. It contains much of the same artificial intelligence technologies used in the company’s race cars, which help them navigate a racetrack without crashing. The creators have placed similar skills inside Cozmo, enabling the little gadget to remember the owner’s name, face and even behaviour.

Cozmo has on-board sensors, but its brains are actually outsourced to a controlling smartphone. The software in the app includes its “emotion engine”, which provides a level of artificial intelligence that handles decision-making and computer vision, and lets it know where Cozmo is in relation to other objects. Key to the toy robot’s appeal is the emotions that it exhibits. It appears social and curious when it recognises a new person and sad when it “feels” ignored. It can also show frustration when it loses games and celebratory behaviour when it wins.

Anki includes several games Cozmo can play, which allows it to indicate actions as the game progresses. But the company says that it plans to release a software development kit so third-party developers can create content for Cozmo. There’s a little robot ecosystem being developed here.

Cozmo is already being compared to some fictional robots such as Wall-E from the animated movie of the same name and BB-8 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s a sub-$200 toy filled with environmental sensors and artificial emotions, and this indicates how far artificial learning has come. From thermostats to light bulbs and now small toy lorries, artificial-intelligence is becoming ubiquitous.