We try out a wide variety of robotic toys in our family which vary greatly in both cost and performance. Over the last few years we've enjoyed products like the Sphero remote controlled robot ball at one end of the price spectrum and simple wind up robots at the other.
Last week I had the chance to see Anki's new robot Cozmo. Costing around the same as the Force Band controlled Sphero BB8 it sits at the higher end of the prize spectrum.
Getting Cozmo out of the packaging it's clear that this is quite a different product than I was expecting or is apparent from the box. Place the robot on the desk and he explores the area with his camera, detecting objects and edges.
In play terms this means he trundles around in front of your diligently checking out the area. So far, so robot toy. But then he stops and looks up at you and makes eye contact with his OLED face.
You see Cozmo is a robot toy that needs to make connection with people. Every few minutes he checks to see if you are watching, and if you are will invite you to play a game, interact, or sometimes just show off with a trick -- stacking his cubes for example.
It's a little unnerving at first, particularly seeing children playing with the little guy. They just treat him as if he's a real character -- talking, laughing and pulling faces at him. But after a while the oddness of the interaction drops away so what you're left with is an endearing little robot.
It's a clever trick that is pulled off by Anki using the same tools to animate Cozmo's physical motion as is used in Pixar feature films and video-games. His responses to the world around him are fast and believable.
Of course all this technology comes at a price though. Cozmo is $179.99 when it launches in the US this month. The big challenge for Anki is for them to communicate what the robot has over other lower priced products.
This may take some time, but I think we have seen similarly disruptive products do this successfully in the past. Nintendo's Wii console is a good example here. The device looked a little odd and clunky before you tried it -- almost a step backwards in gaming. But anyone who played Wii Sports loved it and soon told their friends in the playground to try it as well.
Of course the Wii then suffered from stock shortages which is another pit-fall to unpredictable popularity. Once this was corrected it became one of the top selling consoles of all time. If Anki can get families talking about Cozmo in the same way they have every chance to repeat that success.