According to the study, Cozmo's expressions and ability to move were a key factor in children enjoying it: “Through its eyes and movements, Cozmo was able to effectively communicate emotion, and so the children believed that Cozmo had feelings and intelligence.” In the study, children reported, “[Cozmo] has feelings, he can do this with his little shaft and he can move his eyes like a person, confused eyes, angry eyes, happy eyes...”
|Cozmo's mechanical design went through over 50 iterations before the final version. (Image source: Anki)|
Smarter than a Smartphone
While Cozmo contains an array of sensors for computer vision in particular, it doesn't rely entirely on a onboard processor. Instead, the robot piggybacks on your smartphone. All of its AI-related processing is handled via the cloud. If you think of Cozmo as having a brain, your smartphone is essentially its frontal cortex, handling the higher-end AI applications. The lower, cerebellum-type functions, such as the motion and motor control, are handled by an on-board NXP Kinetis microcontroller.
“What become clear was: If we were going to do everything on the robot itself, it would have made it cost $400-$500. We wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible and enable millions of people to purchase it,” Palatucci said.
He continued, “The first engineer we brought on was to proof out a lot of computer vision schemes—making those algorithms run as best as possible. There were challenges, like dealing with a large variety of illumination, for example. You have homes with different lighting conditions and different types of natural and artificial indoor and outdoor lighting, and you need to tune that to the [robot's] camera. It took a huge amount of investment, and the question also becomes: How much of that [machine vision] computerization do you do in the robot itself versus the app in the phone?”
During development, Palatucci said it became clear to the Anki team that by taking advantage of smartphones, they could offload the appropriate parts of the AI engine and computer vision system. As a result, they could better distribute high-frequency tasks, like a control system that needs to run hundreds of times per second, from lower frequency tasks such as the computer vision system, which can afford to have some latency.
This fall, Anki is planning to follow up Cozmo with Vector, a next-generation robot that the company is calling Cozmo's “bigger and smarter brother.” The most significant iteration is the inclusion of an onboard processor, which eliminates the need for a smartphone. According to the company, Vector is fully autonomous, cloud-connected, and always on. (Unlike Cozmo, he will seek out his own charger and charge himself, like a Roomba.)
|Vector, the successor to Cozmo, features an onboard Qualcomm processor, removing the need for a smartphone for AI and machine learning processing. (Image source: Anki)|
Anki opted for the Qualcomm APQ8009 processor to handle Vector's new sensing capabilities and deep learning functionality. Qualcomm specs reveal the APQ8009 to be a 32-bit, quad-core CPU with four ARM Cortex A7s. It's capable of capturing HD video up to 720p. The processor features an integrated image sensor processor and computer vision capabilities as well as low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and can handle GPS and other satellite localization systems.
Much of the same character design work done with Cozmo has been extended to Vector. The robot has over a thousand carefully designed animations, according to the company, and its characterization is now augmented with more powerful technology. Vector features an HD camera with a 120-degree, ultra-wide field of view and a new, four-microphone array for recognizing both voice commands and individual voices (a big feature missing from Cozmo). He even offers edge-detection to keep from running off the edge of tables (a problem with Cozmo if you don't keep an eye on him).
Speaking with Design News via email, Hanns Tappeiner, co-founder and president of Anki, said a reduction in the price of powerful components is a huge factor in how the company was able to make such significant upgrades from Cozmo to Vector. “One of the things that we’ve perfected over the years is how to mass-produce compelling robotics and AI-powered robots while keeping the cost down significantly. For example, Cozmo has about 340 components and costs $179.99, but Vector is made up of close to 800 parts and will retail for $249.99 at launch while doing a whole lot more,” Tappeiner said. “Keeping the Vector robot accessibly priced is not something that we’d been able to achieve had we not figured out how to manufacture powerfully intelligent home robots at mass-scale.”
The SDK's the Limit
And new features promise even more for developers (and potential filmmakers) looking to experiment.
“The Vector SDK programs run on a computer, which gives users the freedom to integrate with any compatible machine learning / AI technologies, such as Google’s TensorFlow or anything else,” Tappeiner said. “Developers can connect their computer, laptop, or even a Raspberry Pi directly to Vector via their home Wi-Fi network.” He added that Vector's SDK will maintain the same positive aspects of Cozmo—namely that it is Python-based and open source, meaning there are thousands of existing libraries that developers can leverage.
|We decided to give Cozmo's SDK a try and ended up having him do Drake's "In My Feelings" challenge and dance to the song.|
What this means, in short, is a lot of potential for developers and hobbyists to create their own custom machine learning algorithms to teach Vector new tasks and to perform custom abilities. Students and researchers could train Vector to perform custom object recognition tasks, for example. Vector's deep learning neural network extends Cozmo's facial and object recognition to images as well (meaning Vector can recognize not only a person, but a picture of that person), opening up the possibility for a robust number of training scenarios and DIY projects.
“What became obvious in early development is that so many of the features in Cozmo would be of interest to enthusiasts. So in the early days, we made [the] SDK a minimum viable product feature,” Palatucci said of Cozmo's SDK. “As soon as we launched, we saw a lot of universities jumping on it, teaching fundamentals courses using this platform. And CodeLab really filled in a gap with kids who are much younger being able to write their own programs...”
He continued, “We always thought an SDK for education would be a good market of people. We received a lot of letters from families of autistic kids, thanking us for [Cozmo] and telling us what an impact it has had. We got one that said, 'My kid doesn't play and never invites people over, but we got a Cozmo and now he asks kids from school to come over and play and hang out with him.' That's not something we had expected.”
More Characters Coming?
Tappeiner said that Anki is already looking to roll out future products as soon as 2020. “We’ve never been shy about our ambition to build purposeful robots for the home with highly defined emotional intelligence (EQ). We’re already leveraging our learnings from developing Vector—in addition to the work we’ve done around Overdrive and Cozmo—and applying them toward our future product roadmap.”
Whether Anki will continue down the road of toys and entertainment for now or make the first steps toward larger ambitions in robotics and AI remains to be seen. For now, the company is also promising that Vector, like Cozmo, will only continue to get smarter via free over-the-air (OTA) software and firmware updates. “One of the greatest things in these types of products is being able to update everything from the firmware to the app to the back end cloud services,” Palatucci said. “And with all the developers creating content and the community creating content faster than we can, that's adding a lot of value. The robot you buy on day one is potentially very different down the road.”
Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.
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