Founded by Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner in 2010, robotics and artificial intelligence start-up Anki is best known for making AI-powered intelligent toys.
Its first ever product released in 2013 was a racing game called the Anki Drive, which was followed by the Anki OVERDRIVE in 2015.
Then, in 2016, came its most adorable and cute product, Cozmo – a robot for children, complete with sensors, cameras, AI, and the works.
The San Francisco-based company’s latest product, the Vector home robot, is no toy – not that it can’t be used as one, should you want to gift it to a child as a plaything – but it does bear an uncanny resemblance to the $180 Cozmo.
In fact, this obscenely cute little robot companion is, basically, a smart evolution of the smartphone-dependent Cozmo – a lot smarter, in terms of, both, functionality and intelligence.
Vector will not only creep into your home but find its way into your heart, too, with its big expressive square eyes and delightful antics.
Cozmo was a fun little children’s bot that could play games with your kids, keeping them entertained and happy and, probably, out of trouble.
Although Cozmo could respond to basic voice commands, it was primarily controlled by a smartphone app – a kind of inconvenient necessity between you and your robot buddy.
Well, as mentioned, Vector takes functionality and intelligence to a whole new level, as it comes loaded with its own Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8009 processor, with support for Vector’s AI capabilities and its ultra-wide 120-degree HD camera, letting you interact with it directly through voice commands.
It wouldn’t be stretching it too far to say that it’s more like a moving version of Alexa, and a whole lot cuter too.
Vector is capable of carrying out all of the more popular AI-powered voice assistant tasks, such as setting a timer, playing music, giving weather updates, and more; all you need to do is say the wake words “Hey Vector.”
Plus, Anki has incorporated different fun features that really make Vector come alive; if Cozmo won your heart, there’s no reason why Vector won’t, as it has everything that Cozmo did, and much more.
Like Cozmo, Vector can learn your name, memorize your facial features and identify you – thanks to the onboard high definition camera.
It doesn’t need any prompting or commands to greet you by name as you come home after a long day out, something that Alexa needs to learn, as sophisticated an AI assistant as she is.
Located on top of the robot are four directional microphones that are capable of detecting the source of the voice command and turn to face you before responding to the spoken order.
The good thing, from a security point of view, is the fact that images captured by Vector and voice commands given to it are not stored to the cloud.
Vector’s onboard camera and powerful sensors can make amends and adjust according to the surface it trundles on; for example, it can stop itself from falling off the edge of a table, or sense an approaching obstacle and maneuver around it.
Vector is almost completely autonomous, in that it doesn’t even need any intervention to recharge, as it has the ability to seek out its charging station and dock for a refill when it senses low power.
“It’s really this combination of a characterful little robot combined with utility functions,” said Anki co-founder and president Hanns Tappeiner.
“We’re interested in a future where humans and robots co-exist in people’s homes,” he added.
“There are hundreds of things which the robot keeps track of, and he associates all those interactions with you and your name,” Tappeiner said.
“So he will start behaving in different ways towards you than he would behave towards other people who might pay less attention to him,” he said.
Despite the similarities with Alexa, Vector is no match to Amazon’s voice assistant, when it comes to the range of voice commands it can respond to.
However, co-founder and CEO Boris Sofman says that the company has by design made it different from Alexa, which he calls a “characterful” decision, to give Vector an identity of its own, rather than simply licensing Alexa or Google Assistant.
“He has a personality, he has his own quirks, his own weird behaviors, his own desires,” Sofman explained.
“If you flip a switch and start having an Alexa voice come out, it completely kills the fiction of that character,” he added.
”We’re very intentionally not positioning this as a competitor to Alexa,” Sofman said.
“We have a thesis that ‘characterful’ utility is going to trump basic utility because there’s a lot of cases where that’s going to be a more enjoyable form of interaction,” he said, as reported by The Verge.
One of Vector’s most endearing features is the way it turns to face you before responding with an appropriate expression, depending on the command.
If, for example, you have asked Vector for the weather in LA and if it happens to be raining there at the time, it will give an annoyed response, its face covered with tiny droplets of water.
”The fact that we have this character allows us to not have him just deliver the information, but also have him be subjected to the information,” Anki character lead Dei Gaztelumendi said.
“He might endure the weather event, it might rain on him, and he might have an opinion about that,” Gaztelumendi added.
While Vector beeps and clicks most of its responses, it does come up with a vocal response whenever necessary, albeit in a synthesized voice.
“He’s a robot, and he has a tool belt. One of his tools is text-to-speech, and he uses it when it needs it,” Gaztelumendi said. “But when he’s roaming around, his natural, genuine sounds are more chirpy.”