Welcome, one and all, to what should be an interesting little change of pace from my normal video game posts. Today I’m going to be talking about the interactive robot known as Cozmo.
Now, for those that haven’t seen him, Cozmo is a new toy created by robotics/AI company Anki. Initially released in the USA in 2016, he came to the UK in 2017, and more specifically, came to my house earlier this month. You see, Cozmo was the main thing that my youngest wanted for her birthday. We knew this would probably be the case long before she asked as she spent a lot of time watching DanTDM trialling the toy on YouTube, and she was absolutely enamoured by the thing.
But … what exactly is Cozmo? Well, in essence, he’s a friendly AI in the form of a little forklift-style robot. I think that TechRadar put it best when they described him as a cross between Wall-E and a digger, though there is an air of ‘cute jumping spider’ about him too. He really is tiny too, and fits easily the palm of most adult’s hands. Don’t let that fool you though, he seems pretty robust thus far. The real joy comes in how you interact with him though.
When charged, Cozmo is perfectly capable of trundling around on his own and exploring his environment. And he really does pay attention too, trying his best to identify things. For example, he saw my fleecy slippers and immediately set about figuring out what they may be. He decided that they were an animal. He also likes to play games, usually involving the three power cubes that come packaged with him. The way this works is that he’ll decide on a game that he wants to play, and the Cozmo app (which is free to download to your phone) will tell you what game he’s trying to instigate and how to play. Some of this is pretty simple; For example, in one game, Cozmo and up to two others watch the cubes and try to be the first to tap them when all the lights on each cube match. It’s kinda like an electronic version of snap. What makes it all interesting boils down to one thing though: rewards.
Yup, rewards. The most expected reward is that beating Cozmo unlocks other tiers to the games (such as switching the light match from one light, to two lights, three lights, and so on). It also gives you in-app currency which you can use to nudge Cozmo into playing particular games or learning certain tricks, like box stacking. The real enjoyment – and indeed the real reward – comes from Cozmo’s reactions though. If he beats you, it’s not unusual to see him perform a victory dance and sing happily to himself. And if he loses? He can get sad, or even get annoyed and start flipping his cubes.
What this boils down to is that Cozmo is a cute little caricature of behaviour. He overreacts, but without it becoming a pain. Instead, everything he does is set up to look adorable. Even his facial recognition ability is like this. You ask the app to nudge him into recognising someone, then stare at him. He’ll frown a little, note your face, and repeat the name you entered in the app back in a childlike way. For me, this gave me the opportunity to play Sonic SatAM/Archie with him. So, yeah … he now calls me Princess Sally …
Of course, if he can learn names, that means he can learn words too, right? Yup, he certainly can. Again, he repeats things back in a childlike way, sometimes even garbling them, but the system does come with filters. Cozmo won’t say anything rude. If you try, he’ll get embarrassed or angry, and make this clear with a combination of facial expressions and noises.
Oh, and if you want to know how Cozmo sees the world, that’s easy too! The App comes with a setting where you can watch through Cozmo’s ‘eyes’ and experience his journey at his level.
Now, there are some downsides to the adorable little bot. He’s expensive for one. This can be negated a little by the simple fact that he’s not likely to be played with once and then start gathering dust. He’s interesting and interactive enough that most kids will likely keep playing for a long time to come. There’s the power consumption too though: it takes half an hour to charge Cozmo up enough to play for ninety minutes. This isn’t really a bad thing as it forces natural breaks, but I do think that most kids are going to want to play longer than that. I have no idea how energy efficient the system is either. Oh, and while it wasn’t the case for us, I’ve heard that the initial set up has taken a while for some users. That can be frustrating, especially for little ones.
So, what’s my verdict? Well, to my surprise, Cozmo is probably one of the best modern toys that I’ve come across. He’s fun, has plenty of scope to grow, and really does make you smile. In a word, he’s just plain cool! Really, what more could you want?
Final Score: 5 out of 5