Because Cozmo easily integrates into household technologies like smartphones, and Anki has already become a household name with Overdrive, will the consumer robotics startup be able to pivot to a successful household robot?
Anki’s goal is to make artificial intelligence accessible for everyone, and they’re doing it with tech and toys.
The company designs their products to integrate AI technologies into technologies that are already commonly used. For instance, the company is delivering AI to the public through toys that you can control with your smartphone, and is already on the way with the commercial success of their robot battle-car racing game, Overdrive. Aside from its popularity on Amazon, the startup raised $52 million from Andreessen Horowitz and JP Morgan in 2015 as a testament to their success with Overdrive.
Building on the both the technology and success from Overdrive, Anki will launch their latest product, Cozmo, on October 16th.
Is the capital raised an example of Investor rush to AI, or is Anki positioned to take the home robot market?
Brains, Looks and Personality
Designed with emotive droids like R2-D2 and Wall-E in mind, Cozmo is a home robot that is as cute, fun and easy to use as a toy, but as useful and capable as an assistant.
Home robots like Amazon’s Alexa have had some success, but mainly due to their novelty. Her sleek look was designed with the home in mind as a kind of smart piece of furniture, but this design also makes her rigid and static. Combined with the fact that the AI only understands simple commands, Alexa’s design is not mobile and not personable.
Cozmo is equipped with a range of AI capabilities like the facial recognition that helps him read emotions and express emotions, and the machine learning algorithms that help him learn from and adapt to his environment.
Cozmo’s cute factor makes him attractive to audiences, and inspires users to emotionally connect with the home robot. The fact that the home robot is mobile and can be manipulated with your smartphone helps Cozmo (and Anki) easily integrate its technology into our homes, and into our lives.
Another Motor to Feed
Aside from their physical rigidity and lack of personality, the cost of most home robots hasn’t been low enough for people to open the front door to AI and welcome it into their homes.
According to Boris Sofman, one of the founders of Anki, other home robots expensive because other developers use more expensive sensors, hardware, and GPS in their home robot designs that make the final product not commercially viable for the mass market.
Given that Cozmo promises to deliver sophisticated AI capabilities wrapped up in an adorable and dynamic look for around $180.00, Anki is poised to succeed where other home robots have fallen short.
However, like Overdrive, the fact that Cozmo functions with smartphones and tablets easily integrates into familiar technologies, but only available to the household and kids that already have them.
Changing how we view AI
Their AI technology that brings Cozmo to life is arguably more sophisticated than other home robots, and is decisively cheaper. But more than just trying to break into an unsure market, Anki’s Cozmo reflects an interesting mindset that focuses on leveraging overused yet undervalued existing infrastructures to bring a product to the mass market. Despite its increasing role in every facet of society, people may look at AI as something complicated, futuristic, ominous and unconnected to their daily lives. Maybe even just the term “AI” provokes flashes of the T-1000 chasing you down, Hal going haywire or fears of the Singularity.
Packaging AI as a toy (and just in time for Holiday Season) puts something seemingly scientific and intangible into the most unassuming form. Anki’s choice to market Cozmo as a cute and personable toy makes users more receptive to AI by inviting them to explore technology with curiosity, an open mind, and (most importantly), using means that they are already familiar with.
On the other hand, other home robots have tried the toy angle, but with little success in introducing a viable home robot. In 2013, Romo was marketed as “your robot friend”, is also features smartphone integration, and is marginally cheaper than Cozmo. Is Cozmo just a smart Furby, or is he a crucial link in home robot evolution?
Anki has certainly positioned itself to achieve the goal of making AI accessible to everyone, but will they accomplish this goal with a successful home robot?