Should you fancy running a Voight-Kampff test on yourself, grab a Cozmo. If you’re not grinning like an idiot within minutes of playing with this dinky robot, you’re probably an android yourself – or dead inside.
The little chap, which creators Anki say has a “big brain” and “bigger personality”, draws from cute robots in animated movies. And although it’s theoretically an educational toy for kids, it’s also a valid choice of desktop toy for people into tech.
At least, that’s what I convinced myself of after spending hours with the thing after my editor noted Cozmo’s box states ages eight and up.
Getting started: Making a connection
First impressions aren’t so favourable, though. After freeing Cozmo from some kind of plastic contraption akin to tiny robot restraints, he needs to be powered up by plonking him on a proprietary charger.
When his light glows green, you connect to Cozmo’s own Wi-Fi network, using the password handily splashed across his TV-like face. Next, you head into the Cozmo app, to see what goodies await.
The snag is, you must perform a charger/Wi-Fi connection dance every time you wake Cozmo, if you’ve been using a different network in the meantime – and that rapidly becomes tiresome. Also, during testing, he resolutely refused to talk to my iPhone. Perhaps he’s in league with Apple and miffed I’m still sporting a 6s.
Design: Cartoon character
Still, once he’s scooting about, Cozmo is an adorable, joyful thing. His chunky design looks like the offspring of WALL-E and a forklift, and he burbles away in an amusingly daft manner likely to prick up the ears of Pixar lawyers.
Given that Cozmo’s primarily designed to be used by kids, the construction seems sturdy – and it should be at two hundred quid. Even so, I do wonder how robust the rubber tracks will be when Cozmo’s in the employ of a tiny person, and whether the forklift mechanism will survive too many trips from desk to floor.
Anki, for its part, says Cozmo’s been “drop-tested” and is “built to last”. And all was fine when Cozmo hurled himself off of the desk twice during review when I wasn’t watching, as if to prove the point.
The real win, though, is Cozmo’s character. He zips about with a fascination that’s part toddler and part puppy. Endlessly curious, he constantly explores his surroundings, emits a “WOAH!” the first time you dump one of the bundled power cubes in front of him, and whirls in triumph as he lifts it above his head.
Apps and games: Box clever
It’s entertaining to watch this random activity, but the app is where you properly interact with Cozmo and help make him smarter. There are daily tasks, which gradually unlock Cozmo’s capabilities: actions, games, and drag-and-drop ‘programming’ based on MIT’s Scratch.
To encourage repeat visits, this stuff’s activated in a piecemeal manner using in-app currency earned by interacting with Cozmo. This ensures you don’t exhaust the thing within hours, and that you properly explore what’s on offer before moving on.
Within a day or two, Cozmo will have learned to stack cubes and pounce on a finger (disconcertingly sounding like a metal Gremlin while doing so).
You’ll also have unlocked an Explorer Mode. Cozmo’s head-mounted camera beams a video feed to your device, as you drive him about, scaring the cat and identifying ‘humans’. The faux-retro lo-fi picture is a nice touch; the slightly flaky tilt-based steering, less so.
Beyond that, there’s the step-based programming bit, where you can make Cozmo endlessly trundle in a square, pausing only briefly to say “sorry” as penance for earlier frenziedly attacking an iPad rather than pouncing on a finger.
Into the future: Do the robot
Again, this is all breezy fun. The Quick Tap game my particular Cozmo got addicted to is essentially snap with coloured cubes, but is oddly compelling when you’re facing off against a tiny robot who’s a spectacularly bad loser. (“Cozmo is upset” flashed up regularly on the iPad during testing, as the robot sat grumbling to itself.)
However, I also had a nagging concern about longevity. Ultimately, Cozmo can perform ten or so distinct actions, play a handful of simple games, and be directly controlled with a smallish selection of drive, action, animation, event, and control commands.
There is at least serious potential for expansion through the Cozmo SDK, but it remains to be seen how that – and direct updates from Anki – subsequently enhance the unit from a consumer standpoint. Still, if you’re a dab hand at programming, it’s another avenue to explore.
Anki Cozmo verdict: We are dancing mechanic
If a winning personality can secure your affections, you’re done for the second you set eyes on a Cozmo. It’s just so much fun to have around.
“Cozmo sees a pet”, noted the iPad while I was writing this review, before Cozmo, for some reason, started barking. At random, a few hours ago, he also briefly turned into a fruit machine, symbols whirling around on his face in place of eyes. (When they didn’t match, he was very grumpy.)
As you might be able to tell, I get the impression this could appeal to Stuff readers more as a toy for adults than as something for the kids – not least given its reliance on a connected iOS or Android device.
Either way, there’s the thorny issue of price. Doubtless, Cozmo is a sophisticated piece of kit, which is nicely designed, and very appealing. Even so, two hundred quid is quite a big ask.
Still, go in with your eyes open regarding the aforementioned limitations, have optimism Cozmo’s capabilities will grow, and let yourself have fun with a tiny robot pal, and you can’t go far wrong.