Cozmo: The palm-sized robot that’s like having a real-life Wall-E on your desk

If you’ve ever wished to have your own R2-D2, Johnny-5 or Wall-E, your wish has been granted. Well, almost – Cozmo may not be quite as smart as the big-screen robostars, but he (she? It?) is just about the closest thing you can get in the real world.

Designed by Anki, the minds behind Overdrive (the app-controlled take on Scalextric race tracks), Cozmo is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but is smart enough to give robots ten times the size a run for their money.

 Packed with sensors, 360 different components and a growing 1.6 million line codebase, Cozmo has so much personality and is so cute that you may think twice about picking up a pooch if the bot was sat next to a pet store puppy.

Already available in the US for $179.99, Cozmo was the number two toy in America last Christmas, with only supply shortages thought to have kept if off the top spot. Heading to the UK this September for £199.99 (details of Australian and other global territory launches are still not yet available), we sat down for a play with the charming bot.

A boy and his bot

Cozmo looks like an amalgamation of all your favorite pop-culture robots, with the Johnny-5 treads, EVE from Wall-E’s screen-refresh eyes and the R2-D2 attitude. Part toy, part pet, part programming tool, Cozmo is at home sat on your desk, ready to be played with a tap of an iOS or Android app.

Not that Cozmo relies on an app to interact with. While it’s required for setting up the robot and pulling off certain functions (like an “Explorer” mode that turns Cozmo into a robo RC vehicle), Cozmo is most fun when interacting with of its own accord.

With an onboard CPU, a 30fp VGA camera, four motors and over fifty gears, Cozmo is able to recognise up to ten faces (including pets!) and react accordingly, remembering the interactions it had with each individual. Type your name into the app, have Cozmo map your face, and you’ll have your jaw drop when it rolls over to your and bleep your name out in a charmingly synthesised little voice.

Toy time

It’s not just faces that Cozmo can recognise though, as the bot is constantly scanning and assessing its environment for obstacles and things to interact with. Swipe your fingers in front of Cozmo’s screen face, and he’ll shift and start just like a cat following a laser pen. Cozmo comes with three battery powered light up cubes too, which it can stack of its own accord using forklift-like arms, and can also be used for games.

It’s these block-based games where Cozmo’s personality shines through. One sees you competing with Cozmo to tap a block before the bot when it flashes an appropriate color, the other is a block-based take on schoolyard favorite ‘knuckles’, with you tasked with quickly dragging one of the cubes from Cozmo’s grasp after creeping it closer to the robot. Cozmo will chirrup cheerily with each win, and get in a rage when losing. A ten minute charge will give you one hour of play time with Cozmo, with the bot returning to a charging station and appearing to have a snooze when refuelling.

With 866 animations, expressive onscreen eyes and 42 minutes of audio and music, Cozmo is programmed to react expressively to so many different situations that even its creators are finding new easter eggs. Watching Cozmo stress out when being turned on one side, or use his forklift arms to flip over when placed upside down is a joy to take part in.

Python programming

With so much going on under the hood, Cozmo’s proving an unexpected hit with programmers too.

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Anki has now released a Cozmo SDK that’s allowing developers and tinkerers to find new uses for and ways of playing with the robot. A community of thousands on the Cozmo US forums has seen the bot programmed to do everything from display sports scores to weather updates through the Python programming language. The toy is now being seeded with US universities as a gateway device for teaching coding.

Along with free updates to the app (with new secret features promised ahead of the UK launch), Cozmo should have a shelf life long beyond those of your standard ‘dumb’ toy. We’ll be spending some more time with our new robot buddy ahead of its UK launch, so check back soon for further impressions.