What Walt Disney did for animation, Anki is doing for robotics: creating great characters. The goals are the same, only the media differ. In fact, even the media are beginning to blur and blend.
That a robot company is intent upon creating great characters from their machine products is nothing short of amazing; especially so when Anki co-founder Hanns Tappeiner insists that it has never been done before. There’s advantage there.
Anki can not only satisfy its creative urge for building robots with character but also become first movers in a burgeoning home/personal robot space that’s jammed with customers searching for friendly faces amid the growing population of new robots hitting the marketplace.
That’s a strategy that’s both magnanimous and smart!
Can Disney’s success become Anki’s?
Disney had his artists make two million sketches for Snow White, although only 160,000 were used in the final movie. In the creative process of rendering and re-rendering his creations, he enticed a loveable, enchanting character to step out from the sketches and drawings and into the hearts and minds of audiences by the millions.
By design, Anki got a Pixar animation artist to create the inviting look of its newest creation, Cozmo. The three Anki founders, Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci and Tappeiner wanted the look, feel, and audience reaction to Pixar movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E to imbue their collective “cuteness and characterization” into Anki’s new robot, the palm-size Cozmo.
Once they had form, then they could apply robot function: movement, AI, and an emotion engine.
And while Disney couldn’t ever give his audiences the ability to control Snow White, Anki can. Cozmo’s buddies (ages 8 and up) can play with Cozmo, while Cozmo, in return, can play with them. Price: $179 available in the fall of 2016.
A million lines of code-hidden!
However, the three founders realized that playing with Anki meant playing by the rules and tools that Cozmo was born with; something that they wanted to change.
They reasoned that to control the diminutive robot by making it programmable by most anyone with a bit of code training would immeasurably enhance the interaction between human and machine. Read: more fun!
Cozmo’s SDK allows you to use path and motion planners with obstacle avoidance. (Credit: Anki)
The problem they faced was that programming a robot is quite unlike programming a computer. Robots move, for one thing; and for another thing, computers need not know anything about their surroundings or where and why they are moving. Robots do, and the programming to enable all of that is formidable in the extreme for most anyone other than Ph.D roboticists.
Was it possible to produce a software development kit (SDK) for Cozmo that would be at once easy to use, available to anyone worldwide – and free?
The three co-founding amigos at Anki, together with lots of other brainiac roboticists, set about remedying that situation. Atop Cozmo’s million lines of robot code they crafted a simpler tool that effectively masked the massively dense code beneath.
When typing in a simple line of code for Cozmo to, say, roll up and scan your face, the simpler one line of code automatically fires up eight thousand lines of unseen code – entirely unknown and hidden from to the coder – that are the actual commands directing the face-scanning sequence to take place.
Cozmo’s SDK will be free and released as a Beta in October 2016 to anyone interested. (Credit: Anki)
“With Cozmo,” says Anki, “we built a robot that has the same sophistication as some robots currently used in research labs. Those robots typically cost thousands of dollars and stand several feet tall.
“Cozmo, in stark contrast, fits in the palm of your hand and costs a fraction of the price.” With the SDK, for example, you’ll be able to:
- Use the computer vision system to track and recognize faces and facial expressions and estimate their position and orientation in 3D space.
- Tap into the localization system with access to the robot’s internal map and all objects in it.
- Utilize path and motion planners with obstacle avoidance, etc.
- Explore Cozmo’s behavior system and execute high level behaviors such as look-around, find faces, find cubes, etc.
- Use the entire animation system of the robot with access to all animations and sounds our character team has created.
This means, with the SDK, you’ll be able to use Cozmo’s facial recognition to identify faces and take actions, or his computer vision and path planning to navigate around obstacles in his environment, or tap into his animation system to choreograph complex movements upon command.
Path planning code for the Cozmo SDK. (Credit: Anki)
Cozmo’s promise and beyond
“Making this level of robotics available has staggering implications for the worlds of entertainment, academia and future industries,” says Cozmo’s builders.
“We simplified some of the hard work, so that you can advance your research, solve the next big challenge in robotics, or simply get creative and entertain friends with what a spunky robot can do.
“Behind the scenes, we’re already working on a longer roadmap for the SDK with leading academic institutions, research labs and companies, and leaders in STEM education – because we can’t think of a better way to inspire the next generation of roboticists and coders than a Cozmo in every classroom.
“We want to give you the power to learn more and help advance the state of robotics, no matter how novice or advanced your skills.”