Anki followed up Overdrive a year later with Cozmo. Recently, it completed a successful crowdfunding campaign for its next-generation robot, Vector.
The company's design philosophy revolves around four major pillars: vision and sensing for tasks like facial and object recognition; animatronics; AI; and interactive content, which includes all of the games and activities for the robot.
Designing Cozmo was a collaboration between engineers and animators. The robot was storyboarded and tested like an animated character for film or TV. (Image source: Anki)
To bring its robots to life, the company employs a cross-disciplinary team of mechanical and electrical engineers, game designers, AI experts, and even animators. “Because we really want [our robots] to be expressive and convey emotions, we've literally hired animators from Pixar, Dreamworks, and other big animation houses and built a pipeline based on feature film animation,” Palatucci explained. He added that the company's workflow in designing Cozmo is not unlike the workflow for creating an animated character. “We use tools like Maya down to physical robots,” he said. “We have an animation team that sees the robot doing the motion instead of seeing a simulation. That was really critical in the pipeline.”
In the process of developing Cozmo, Anki's animators storyboarded the robot and performed the same animation tests that they'd perform on a character for film or TV. “It was the same rigor as an animated project. We'd ask ourselves, what is this character's motivations? His strengths? Weaknesses? What is he trying to achieve in the world? You can do hundreds of variations of something as small as the eyes, but it ends up being such an important part of the character.”
Even the voice was the result of careful design and testing. “Cozmo’s voice was recorded by our audio engineer, Ben Gabaldon,” Palatucci said. “He recorded his own voice and then put the sound through a computer synthesizer and a series of effects to find the right 'voice' for Cozmo. Human voice recordings provide an organic source, while a combination of synthesis and post production audio processing creates the personality and performance of Cozmo's final voice.”
Palatucci said the company went through over 50 mechanical engineering prototypes before settling on the final version of Cozmo. But all the work is paying off—particularly with Cozmo's younger audience. A 2017 study conducted by researchers at the MIT Media Lab sought to look at how children ages 2 to 10 perceived interactive agents including Cozmo along with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and a conversational chatbot named Julie. After interacting with Cozmo, the children were asked to answer questions about trust, intelligence, social entity, personality, and engagement. Results showed that 40% of the younger children (ages 3-4) perceived Cozmo as being smarter than them while 20% of the older children (ages 6-10) reported the same.