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.