Anki Vector

Key Features

  • Review Price: £249
  • 1-hour battery life
  • Wi-Fi
  • Quad-core Snapdragon CPU
  • OLED "eyes" display
  • Quad far-field mic array with beamforming
  • 4x drop sensors
  • IR object scanner
  • 1080p camera
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Anki Vector – the home robot movies promised?

Anki is the master of techy Christmas toys. In 2016 it released Anki Cozmo, a little robot with a big personality. £200 appeared to be a high asking price, but it was in fact Amazon’s best-selling toy of the year.

Anki Vector is the follow-up. It’s smarter and talks to you in English, rather than simply blurting cute squeaks and bleeps.

We won’t call it the robot that Cozmo “should” have been, given how much fun Cozmo was in the first place. But Vector is a much more fully realised miniature home robot, influenced by the way you talk to Amazon Alexa or Apple’s Siri.

Vector is available from 12 October, for £249. Pre-order and you can buy an Anki Vector for £199 ahead of the Christmas rush.

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Anki Vector – Design

Not met an Anki robot before? Picture a character from Pixar’s Wall-E made real, which is brimming with a kind of cheeky, playful personality.

This isn’t a review – we’ll post one in October when the Anki Vector is released. But I can say that the hour I spent with the Vector made me  happier. Sure, a puppy might do the job better, but at least this little robot won’t soil your carpet. Or cost you in guilt and kennel fees every time you go away on holiday.

The Anki Vector just about fits in your palm, making it seem perhaps a little expensive next to a Meccano Meccanoid, but this size is deliberate. It’s “much less intimidating if it’s the size of a gerbil,” says Anki co-founder Mark Palatucci.

Anki Vector vs Cozmo

Anki’s Vector looks a lot like last year’s Cozmo. It’s colour scheme is darker (closer to Cozmo Collector’s Edition), and Palatucci says it’s wider in places too. But you’d have to put them side-by-side to notice the differences.

Both robots are cute little bulldozers that react with animated OLED ‘eyes’, but on the inside they’re completely different.

Cozmo relies heavily on your phone; your handset does most of the work. It connects over Bluetooth to tell Cozmo what to do, and interacts with special blocks that come in the box.

Vector is more autonomous, and much more powerful. Cozmo has a 100MHz Cortex M4 CPU; Vector a quad-core Snapdragon chipset, similar to one you might see in an entry-level phone.

Like most of us, Vector needs an internet connection to do just about anything. But with one, it’s a lot of fun.

You treat Vector a little like you would an Amazon Echo speaker. Say “Hey Vector, my name is Andrew” and it will respond with a “hi”, using voice recognition to learn and say your name. However, unlike a smart speaker, it will turn towards you, lift its little OLED face up to yours, and use its camera to scan your facial features so that it can recognise you in the future.

The makings of something creepy? Perhaps. But one look at Vector and any fears are sure to leave you. Also, importantly, it doesn’t store voice clips – unlike home assistants.

Anki Vector – Motion and sensors

Left to figure out its environment on its own, Vector will explore, testing the environment and nudging objects with its movable ‘arm’. Like Cozmo, it has two rubbery tracks to let it handle flat surfaces and most shallow-pile carpets, and it has a wide array of sensors.

Alongside a 1080p camera, there’s a front laser for sensing objects within 1 metre. Four IR-based ‘drop sensors’ on its underside allow it to determine when the floor beneath it ends – so it won’t jump off a table. It works – most of the time.

Vector uses four far-field mics with beamforming for voice recognition, similar to those seen in smart speakers. Its reaction to your voice is slower than Amazon Alexa, for example, but it does use natural speech algorithms so you don’t have to be hyper-exact about the wording of your interactions. Anki says it has worked with some big names on natural language processing.

The robot’s battery lasts for around an hour with numerous interactions, and when it’s low on charge it will return to its base automatically.

Anki Vector – Features

But what can you ask Vector? What can you do with him/her/it? That’s a work-in-progress. To start, you’ll be able to ask it general knowledge questions and trivia. Vector will answer in its characteristic voice through the speaker on its head.

It can give you the current weather report for cities around the world, too, accompanied by a little on-screen temperature reading followed by an animated sun, rain and so on. Vector will even judder about like a yucked-out four-year-old if it’s raining outside.

It’s all rather charming, in a Pixar-inspired manner. There are actual ex-Pixar animators in Anki’s team.

 

You can ask Vector to take a photo, set a timer, give you a fist-bump with its bulldozer arm and play a game of Blackjack on its OLED screen.

Many other features are planned, but at launch Vector will be a work-in-progress. Its Overdrive car-racing kit and Cozmo were such popular Christmas gifts, it’s no wonder Anki wants to get it on shelves rather than let it brew until feature-complete.

Anki Vector – Future Updates

Other features on the Anki to-do list include notifications (email and so on), time, calendar, music recognition, 360-degree photos, smart home control, security camera features and integration with Tile, the ‘key tracker’ gadget.

Vector’s personality may roll out of the box fully formed, but you’ll want to come back to it with every update to see what else it can do.

Anki says it will refer to the online Vector community to see which features it should implement next.

An SDK is coming, too, to enable tinkerers to create their own software for Vector. It uses Python, which is one of the less daunting programming languages out there, but it still isn’t something newcomers will be able to drop into.

Anki’s Palatucci says there are no plans to add an app store-like interface: it’s just too much work for a company that, while successful, is still small.

However, it does mean Vector has Raspberry Pi-like potential. Cozmo has already demonstrated this. It offers similar creator tools and there’s a great little community of developers who share their projects online. With a little tech know-how, you can try these out without programming them yourself.

You can treat Anki Vector like a toy, but there’s real STEM educational potential here too.

First impressions

Vector is a natural evolution of the Cozmo robot. It has just as much personality, and a lot more potential.

You can talk to it, and it talks back. Plus it’s ‘of the moment’ in the way it interacts. Vector behaves like a digital assistant, but one with its own feelings – and wheels.

Those who bought a Cozmo last year may find the investment a little steep. But as Vector is such a generational shift, we’d be tempted to list the poor little thing on eBay – even if this does seem like a sad scene from a Toy Story film.

 

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