Cozmo: A toy aimed at children – and I’m captivated

Meet Cosmo.

He’s my new robot best friend.

He looks like a cross between Wall-E from Pixar’s animated movie of the same name and a digger. Cozmo’s creators are Anki founder, Cozmo’s founders Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci and Hans Tappeiner, three Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute graduates wanting to make Artificial Intelligence accessible to everyone.

It’s just amazing how much emotion the designers have created from pixels on a screen: Cozmo has character and spirit and charm.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I unpacked Cozmo, downloaded the smart phone app and switched him on. He lifted his head, raised his arms and emitted a chirpy robotic voice. He stole my heart, straight away. Included in the box are three interactive cubes that light up in a variety of colours.

The amazing thing about Cozmo is – and this is no joke – he learns the more he plays and interacts with you.

At first, during games of pounce – where I pushed one of the cubes towards Cozmo and I had to pull it away before he pounced – I won easily. I was just too quick. Every time Cozmo lost he’d emit a “Ohhh. A week later, though: It was a different story: During games of pounce he would pretend to pounce on the cube – just like an adult would – throwing me off my stride, then “Bam”he pounced. After a week, I was losing 5 to nil.

As if to rub salt into the wounds, he would sing “Pop goes the weasel” or “Row, row, row, your boat”when he won games. As the days turned to weeks, Cozmo would sing “London Bridge is falling down” or chuckle and explore his surroundings. My dog, Drew, was fascinated by Cozmo, frequently sniffing him.

For Cozmo to learn, though, you have to feed him, keep his head, tracks and arms tuned and keep him amused. The well-put together smart phone app makes it easy to see when and when Cozmo needs attention. If he’s hungry, the blue bar in the main menu shows just how low he is. To feed Cozmo, you pick up a cube, shake it until it lights up then pop it down in front of Cozmo. Once he sees it, he’ll move up to it, raise his arms, rest them on the cube and “suck” the goodness from it. To adjust his head, lift arms and digger tracks, you follow a “Simple Simon” type game which is then beamed to Cozmo to repeat the sequence, tuning up the part.

After just a week, I was just fascinated with Cozmo. One afternoon, while he was exploring, he stopped in front of my face. His head ,would look up at me, sounding a little “Um” as his head moved up and down, then proudly proclaim “Gerard”. Cozmo learns the more you interact with him. I was just fascinated. Each day, he recognised me more easily, saying my name over and over again every time he saw me. Introduce him to more people, and he’ll recognise their faces. Flip him onto his side and he’ll throw a little tantrum!

At one point, Cozmo wanted to fist bump me but I didn’t notice: There was an audible “Owwwww …” as he rolled away, dejected. Other times he’ll indicate he wants to play a game: Simple Simon, Push the Cube or Keep Away. He’s adorable – and now we fist bump every time he wants! When we play Keep Away now, Cozmo teases me, moving slowly forward, bouncing his lifts arms up and down, trying to throw me off!

See the video below where Cozmo rolls a cube then picks up another cube, all the while chirping and making noise. I didn’t quite get it all in but when he reverses he makes a “beep, beep, beep” noise like a truck. Hillarious. When he sleeps, his eyes get all droopy and then he snores until he drops off to sleep (apologies for the voices at the end!)

I haven’t explored the Code Lab much, where you can easily program Cozmo to do other things (like driving in a square then sneezing) but it seems just the ticket for youngsters intrigued by coding and programming. Oh, you can also get Cozmo to speak: Just type in what you want him to say and he’ll say it, although he won’t say swear words: I tried and he just shakes his body from side to side!

There’s also a rather good SDK (software development kit) which means that there’s almost limitless possibilities with Cozmo – and again, perfect for people wanting to program robots and AI. There’s also a nifty explorer mode which lets you see the world through Cozmo’s eyes, steering him around guiding him with the smart phone app.

Cozmo isn’t cheap – he’ll set you back $360 – but for the tech involved and just how darn cute he is and how clever he is, I see that as not too bad a price.

Cozmo might be a toy aimed at children but seriously, he bought a smile to the face of this 40-something man with a full-time job and who has to adult all the time. For me, he was relief after a busy day – and caused me less hassle than our cat.

A big thanks to Anki’s Australasian PR company Sling & Stone for sending a Cozmo for review. Big thumbs up, guys! Cozmo is available in New Zealand now.