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Anki's adorable toy robot Cozmo is back, and programmable

Anki Cozmo gets the programmable upgrades it should have had all along with Cozmo Code Lab.

Remember Anki Cozmo? It's baaaack.
Scott Stein/CNET

Anki Cozmo was one of the cutest robot toys of last year. Now it could be one of the hottest programming toys of this year.

Cozmo felt like a real-life version of Wall-E when I first saw it. It was charming, it was fun. But it wasn't programmable: instead, it played a handful of AI-enabled games.

Now, a new Code Lab app update launching today adds a big dose of graphical programming, letting anyone 7 and up (or, maybe even younger) do some pretty impressive things. 

According to Hanns Tappeiner, President & Co-founder of Anki, the Cozmo robot was originally designed to launch with these tools. Now that they're arriving, Anki is betting on Cozmo being a superior programming toy compared to other alternatives because of Cozmo's more advanced sensors. Cozmo can use its facial recognition-enabled cameras to act when it sees familiar faces, or even emotions like smiles. Cozmo also uses its sensors to navigate (simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM), which means it can be trained in more advanced ways.

I made Cozmo play peek-a-boo with me, dancing and sneezing whenever I smiled. When I frowned, it just stayed still. I programmed the code myself, sliding it together like a simple puzzle. By the way, I'm not a coder.

The app's new update comes with a bunch of puzzle-like programming challenges, too, that act as a stepping-stone to learning how to code the robot.


The app adds easy-to-use programming based on Scratch Blocks.

Scott Stein/CNET

Cozmo Code Lab app is based on Scratch Blocks, a graphical programming language developed by MIT Media Lab and Google. Anki released an SDK enabling programming in Python last year, with an impressive amount of flexibility and hackability, but it wasn't entirely kid-friendly.

The easier-to-play-with Scratch Blocks-based Code Lab language is targeted as being better for kids to understand, and is starting off more slowly with dozens of programmable pieces, using a "horizontal grammar" for simpler coding.

Anki's planning a deeper fall update after that, with "vertical grammar" allowing more complicated programming and, according to Tappeiner, all the functions of the Python SDK. Which means that, eventually, kids might start being able to use Cozmo in ways like ambitious robotics programmers have already been exploring since late last year. Anki claims that with it, Cozmo can be programmed to play new games.

Right now, Anki isn't exploring build-your-own robot construction kits like Jimu Robot and Lego Boost. Instead, Cozmo is just getting new colors and swappable treads later in the year. That could be a possiblity down the road, however, maybe for a sequel to Cozmo. "But only in service of teaching how to code," says Tappeiner.