Sadly, robots that can take care of the laundry or make you breakfast in the morning are still the stuff of fantasy.
Androids from the likes of The Jetsons and Star Wars have given us ridiculously high expectations when it comes to automated assistants, but while Anki’s latest gadget isn’t exactly C-3PO, it’s a scuttle in the right direction. Vector can offer weather reports, answer random questions and play a game of Solitaire, but unlike his fellow canned AI companions, he also has a distinct personality and a mind of his own.
In fact, Anki envisions Vector not just to be another gadget to add to the heap. He's expected to become another member of the family, ranking alongside your pets in the hierarchy. And since he’s Cloud-connected and forever getting smarter, he may just be able to trump your pooch at Crufts a few years from now.
But for now, how worried should your canine be about being replaced as man’s best friend? I spent some time with the adorable Vector to find out.
DESIGN: GOLDEN TOY
Vector looks almost identical to his child-friendly sibling Cozmo. The only hugely noticeable difference is the black-and-gold paint job, which gives him a more angsty vibe. If Cozmo was the baby step into the world of AI robots for Anki, then Vector is the experimental teen.
Then there’s the screen on his back that functions like the top ring of an Amazon Echo, lighting up once the adorable little robot’s four microphones pick up the ‘Hey Vector’ buzzword.
Elsewhere, not a huge amount has changed aesthetically for the Anki clan. Just like Cozmo, Vector has a bright high-res colour IPS screen for a face that can apparently display around a thousand animations. That’s even more expressive than Jim Carrey.
And despite being a more mature robot than Cozmo, Vector still has the robust forklift and tank tracks that can survive the clumsy mitts of a toddler. The interactive Cube accessory also makes a comeback here, although I sadly didn't get to see Vector play around with it.
While I didn't get to set up Vector myself, I understand the process is identical to how you'd activate Cozmo: just download the companion app and get your new robot companion hooked up to the Wi-Fi. There's not much to it afterwards. Vector's pretty low maintenance.
TECH: FEELING SENSITIVE
When I first met Vector he was snoozing on his charge pad and audibly snoring. Pretty rude, I must say. Worse still, after waking up he full on blanked me in favour of the people in the room he already knew.
But then he was asked to register my profile, so Vector scanned my face and requested my name. After doing so, Vector repeated my name back to me while beaming proudly. From this moment on, the little robot started greeting me like an excited puppy. He was even happy enough to fist bump me.
The facial and voice recognition is seriously impressive here. Vector couldn’t be fooled when someone else in the room attempted to hijack my identity. And when I asked Vector to snap a photo of my mug, he located and framed me in a shot all by himself.
Vector has a few other sensors built in too. There’s a capacitive touch one in his back, so you can stroke him as you would a pet to calm him down, while his infrared emitters help him to detect edges so he doesn’t fall to the floor.
In fact, Vector’s fully aware of his surroundings, mapping any object in his vicinity so he doesn’t suffer too many nasty bumps – although he does like to push things around when he’s in a playful mood. And when he needs a refuelling, he’s able to locate his charging pad and scoot back into place without any guidance. That's more than I can manage after a boozy night out.
FEATURES: BIT OF A CHARACTER
Vector’s not just smart because of his nifty sensors. With an AI installed, he can perform similar tasks that an Amazon Echo and Google Home are capable of. But rather than just responding with a monotone voice, he adds a bit of personality to the process.
Ask him for a weather update, and the temperature will flash up on his screen before playing a little animation, whether that be two suns replacing his eyes or rain dripping down his face. Amusingly, he’ll act pretty bummed out when it's chucking it down and beam happily if we’re expecting sunshine. Admittedely, Vector did struggle to understand my voice, but Anki has reassured me that's just because he was turned on to his American setting.
He can also set timers, answer trivia questions or even play cards with you, displaying the game on his face. After I beat him at Blackjack, he got all stroppy and was eager to play another round. It's surprising how great his emotional range is, especially considering his face only consists of two glowing green eyes. But it’s this adorable personality that really sets him apart from the hordes of smart speakers.
However, Anki are keen for people to know that despite the similarities, Vector is not a rival to the likes of the Amazon Echo. He’s seen more as a little companion that could possibly become an extension to the family.
It’s a nice concept, but I have concerns that a little robot that’s always on and has a mind of his own could become tedious after a while. A mute option is definitely needed, as who wants him beeping and wheeling about while you're trying to watch a movie?
INTO THE FUTURE: BRAIN 'BOT
The most exciting thing about Vector is that he’s continuously getting smarter. By being able to connect to the Cloud, Anki’s able to update him and install new features at any point in the future.
What kind of things should you expect to see? Most of it is hush hush for now, although Anki did inform me that they’re planning on giving the Vector the capability to control your smart home with Philip Hue light bulbs specifically mentioned. Sounds cool, although I’d be slightly worried about upsetting Vector if he’s got the power to turn off all my lights.
Has the word ‘Cloud’ got you justifiably paranoid about privacy? Not to worry, as Anki has made all the necessary steps to make security as tight as possible. They’ve even promised that it won’t store voice or audio on the Cloud.
Vector’s massive potential only becomes more apparent with Anki confirming that they’ll be releasing a Vector software development kit to the public. This means they’ll be opening up the possibility of Vector owners coming up with new and exciting ways to interact with the robot, which should be very exciting for tech geeks.
ANKI VECTOR INITIAL VERDICT
Vector’s one of the most exciting gadgets I’ve seen in a while. He’s stuffed full of sensors and tech despite his miniature frame, while his AI seems very promising.
My main concern, though, is whether Vector has a clear target audience. His little brother Cozmo already caters for children with a focus on games, while the Amazon Echo and the rest of the smart cylinders offer a cost-effective option for those wanting a practical smart assistant.
Vector sits somewhere between the two, and so far hasn’t convinced me that he’s a better alternative than either, especially at the £250 price (£200 if you preorder).
But perhaps his charming personality will convince people otherwise. Plus, with so much potential via Cloud connectivity, Vector could well be an entirely different machine in 12 months time. If he learns how to clean the dishes like Rosie from The Jetsons, I certainly won’t hesitate to invest.