Anki is a company whose products always seem to delight. Overdrive, its push into the racing-set space, was a fun hybrid of Scalextric-style controls and app gaming. While its robot companion Cozmo hit the top of the toy charts, thanks to its charm.
But Cozmo was really just a desk toy, with the emphasis on toy. Despite it being able to do a number of things, most people just played games with it and cooed when it made a noise. The potential for it to be something bigger was always there.
Enter Vector, the literal bigger brother of Cozmo. Vector is Anki's latest robot release and it's aiming at a different market from Cozmo.
It's certainly a device that will be liked and used by kids, but the aim is for it to be used by the whole family. Actually, it's aim is really to be part of the family.
Design and features
The main way Anki is hoping to achieve this is by making Vector autonomous. Where Cozmo was tethered to an app, that was probably only on one person's device, Vector hooks straight into your Wi-Fi connection and is largely app free.
This automatically means that it will be used by more people in the home, so to make sure all of these people don't get bored it can do a lot more things.
While making it app - and phone - free (apart from setup) sounds like an easy fix, there's been a lot of graft behind the scenes for this to happen. Anki has had to shift the computational power that was mostly done through the app on to the robot itself, swapping out a tiny processor for something much bigger. On board is a Qualcomm Snapdragon, Quad Core 1.2GHz chip, offering up the same power as some smartphones and tablets.
This extra power boosts means that Vector can do a lot of things and while Anki is keen not to brand it a virtual assistant, whisper it, the things it can - and eventually will - do are very much what you would expect from the likes of Google Assistant and Alexa.
For instance, the Ask Vector feature means that it can give you answers to questions you may have. It's also got the ability to set timers, tell you what the weather is doing - with neat animations - take pictures and generally mill about in the background waiting for you to wake it and do something with it. It has this ability, thanks to the four near-field microphones inside its chassis. Anki is keen to point out that while these mics are turned on by the wake word, any recording is scrubbed immediately - it's not in the business of snaffling up data like.
When it goes off and does its own thing, it is very similar to Cozmo. Looks wise there are big familiarities, too, but it's chunkier and has a paint job that screams sophistication - it's all black and golds, compared to Cozmo's orange kid-like appearance.
It also has the same tread and arm on the front - it even comes with a similar charging dock and interactive blocks.
It's clear, though, that this is a far brainier device. We only had a demo of Anki Vector but loved what we saw. Vector was able to recognise our face and voice once we asked it to - it can understand different dialects such as UK and US - and will speak to you in a very garbled but cute robotic voice.
We asked it what the weather was and it told us, with animations to match.
We asked it to set a timer and that countdown appeared on its small front-facing high-res colour IPS display. When we weren't asking it to do things, it would test out its area and while we thought it was going to fall off the table it was on the laser guidance system it uses to track where it is stopped it from doing this.
We even played Black Jack with it - again, its small screen is in us showing the cards - and it let us win a couple of times.
When roaming around the area, it would sometimes see our face and just speak our name, getting excited while doing it. There's a huge amount of charm and personality in this thing.
When it comes to power, there is a docking station like the one Cozmo has. But this time, because it has its own brain it will automatically head there when it is running low on power which adds to it being its own thing.
It's also aware as to what time it is, so the later it is at night it will stop chattering and be that little bit quieter. In our time with it, it seemed super aware of everything that was going on.
Giving it a little stroke, too, emits a response thanks to the capacitive sensor in its back.
We only scratched the surface of what Vector can do in our short time with it, but it's clear that this is a more sophisticated machine than Cozmo.
Anki is pitching it as a family device that, in the near future, should be used in the home much like Google Assistant and Alexa are used now. Its hinted at smart home integration and the future ability to become a security alarm and an assistant to automate things like lights and temperature in the home. Its processing power is impressive and this gives it a brilliant sense of it being its own thing.
Not having to use an app certainly takes away the friction of using the robot and it feels like it opens up Vector to be used everyday for myriad things.
It's clear, though, that there is more to come and we can't wait to see what that will be.
Vector can be pre-ordered on anki.com from 8 August for 30 days, until September 6.
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