I'm sitting in Anki's head office in San Francisco, trying to work out who's sawing logs. Turns out, it's coming from a palm-sized robot called Vector, sitting on a charging dock getting some shut-eye.
Anki is the company behind Cozmo, an AI-equipped toy robot that's sold over 1.5 million units. Unlike the kid-friendly Cozmo, Vector is designed for the entire family to interact with in the home.
Home robots are familiar to many of us from the realms of cartoons and science fiction, like Rosie from The Jetsons or even R2-D2. But the fiction is a long way from the technological reality today. Robots like Buddy promise to be both a cute companion and a useful assistant, but they cost thousands of dollars and can't make you a cup of coffee (yet). Amazon is rumored to be working on its own bot, code-named Vesta, though we know very little about what it will do or how much it will cost.and
Vector can't make a coffee or clean your house either, but he's on the more affordable end of the robot spectrum, costing US$249 (£249.99 in the UK or $449.99 in Australia). He's designed to be fully autonomous once you've set him up from a phone (and yes, Vector is definitely a he, according to Anki). "We wanted to work out how to bring a sci-fi character into a physical form," says Mark Palatucci, co-founder of Anki.
Like other virtual assistants, Vector responds to voice queries. That's everything from "Hey Vector, what time is it?" to "play blackjack" for a casual game of cards.
The robot can also handle more complex requests. If you ask Vector to come find you, he works out the direction your voice is coming from using his four onboard microphones.
Vector is powered by a Qualcomm processor and has a 120-degree HD camera. Ask Vector to take a photo of you and he positions himself to get the best framing with you in the center of the shot. A color IPS screen shows Vector's expressions, query results and animations that reflect his mood.
After you introduce yourself and say your name, Vector registers your face and starts calling you by name when he spots you. Like Cozmo, if you turn him on his side, he'll kick up a stink and get upset, making noises and moving around to express himself. And the more you play and interact with Vector, the more he develops a personality.
At the moment, Vector's skill set is fairly basic: weather, taking photos, setting timers and answering simple queries. But Anki says this will get better over time, with over-the-air updates adding new features on a regular basis. Vector will soon get a messaging feature so when it recognizes a face it can deliver a message. Imagine if your kids returned home from school and Vector said, "You didn't clean your room" as soon as he saw them.
Even though he's cloud-connected, photos taken by Cozmo never leave the device and Anki says voice data isn't stored in the cloud. I ask Palatucci if there're any plans to give Vector the ability to control smart home devices, like you can with the Google Assistant or Alexa. It's coming soon: "We're determining how to do it so [data] is not in the cloud," he says.
Vector is available for preorder on Kickstarter at a discounted price of US$199. Kickstarter backers will get the robot a few days earlier than everyone else and early access to the SDK that lets you code the robot yourself.
Vector is available in the US starting Oct. 12, and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK in the same month.
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