The Anki Cozmo is a miniature, playful toy robot that provides children with an introduction to the world of robotics and a tool to teach coding through its Code Lab app. Using motion, vision, emotion and intelligence, Cozmo acts like a living, breathing machine from the future that can play, learn and grow all on its own. It uses various sensors to explore its surroundings and users can challenge it to a range of different games. Code Labs, covered in more detail below, gives kids access to all the different functions of block based coding much like other toys based on Scratch.
To appreciate the the Cozmo, it helps to know something about the company’s origin. Built by renowned robotics and artificial intelligence startup Anki, Cozmo is the newest product from Anki’s robotic children’s toy lineup. Anki’s first two products, the Anki Drive and Overdrive, were self-aware, artificial intelligence operated race cars that kids could use to customise, train and battle with each other. While the level of functionality in Anki’s previous products pales in comparison to the Cozmo, the fundamental concept of using artificial intelligence and robotics in children’s toys remains the same in every Anki product. With the experience of the Drive and Overdrive under its belt, Anki launched the Cozmo for sale in Q3 2016.
How does it work?
At its core, the Cozmo is very reminiscent of another robot loved by children, Pixar’s WALL-E. Just like the cyborg from the popular children’s film, the Cozmo communicates and plays games using its facial expressions via its eyes (a LED screen on its face), sounds and motor. After pairing the robot with an appropriate Apple or Android smartphone, the Cozmo lights up and is ready to function.
Even though the connection process is simple, all interactions with the Cozmo occur via the app, so your child will need a phone in order to play. You can’t use your phone on the internet while playing with Cozmo, and closing the app will turn the robot off (put put him/her to sleep).
After connecting, using the Cozmo is very straightforward as its functions are easily accessible via a touch friendly interface suitable for kids. The only other prerequisite is battery power. Unlike other robots on the market that require external batteries, the Cozmo comes with an inbuilt rechargeable battery that can provide around 90 minutes of usage once fully charged from the included charging dock.
The app is key to all functionalities, whether you are playing a game, installing updates or coding instructions for the Cozmo to follow. It comes with two games called Quick Tap and Keep Away. Just like the name implies, Quick Tap sees’s children attempt to make Cozmo tap one of included playing cubes when the colours match. Similarly, in Keep Away, kids are tasked with keeping a playing block within the Cozmo’s reach and moving it before it can jump on it. Even though both games start simply, the Cozmo will progressively ramp up the difficulty level after each defeat in order to keep the user interested and engaged. Playing games and interacting with the Cozmo is where the machine’ emotion engine best visible as the cagey robot will display different reactions ranging from frustration to excitement depending on the outcome. Win or lose, the Cozmo will build a unique character based on various interactions with its owner all due to its emotional engine.
Cozmo Code Lab
Ever since Cozmos original release last year, Anki has promised owners continuous and frequent updates. True to their word, Anki has done just that with the Cozmo Code Lab. Based on Cozmo’s SDK (a software development kit for developers to build software), the Cozmo Code Lab is a block based coding language accessible for children up to eight years of age and above. Available for free on the Cozmo app, the Cozmo Code Lab’s function focuses on simplicity and ease of use.
Coding on the Cozmo is accomplished via a series of different coloured blocks that cover different functions. Narrowing down Cozmo’s diverse abilities into small blocks, kids can create different command sequences by dragging and dropping different blocks from the starting and ending area. Even though Cozmo’s Code Lab can only use simple computer science concepts like if and else statements, Anki promises to add more complex computer science concepts in the Code Lab later this year.
Some children may find the block based coding design familiar as the format is found in many different modern coding platforms aimed towards kids like Scratch and Tynker. The tried and proven block based coding design makes coding in the Code Lab straightforward. However, unlike some other block based coding platforms like Scratch, it is currently not possible to convert the block based code into more complex languages like Java and C#. Again, Anki has said that it plans to include that type of functionality in a later update.
One of the primary ways the Cozmo Code Lab differs from other coding platforms designed for kids is the level of functionality it provides. Typically, coding platforms for children only provide enough functionality to do generic and mundane tasks like display images and text on a computer screen. While some kids may find these types of tasks interesting, overexposure to these types of actions in the same format can lead kids to quickly get bored.
Keeping them interested in what they are learning is where the Cozmo Code Lab shines. Through a huge array of different functions, children can code the Cozmo to do a lot of different things that they simply can’t do on other conventional platforms. Via a simple drag and drop based interface, kids can control the Cozmo’s movements, animations, events, and actions. Controlling the Cozmo has a tangible benefit in the learning process as children can see their code come to life right in front them.
This learning process is the greatest beneficiary from the significant degree of customisation and control that Code Lab’s provides over the Cozmo. From simple projects that combine the movement and animations like making the Cozmo drive and sneeze, to more advanced programs like making an intruder alarm with the device’s object recognition capabilities.
Overall, the Cozmo Code Lab’s ability to make kid’s code come to life makes it one of the most accessible computer science learning tools for any parent eager to teach their children about computer science in a unique and exciting fashion. In addition to the Code Lab, the Cozmo is an entertaining and enjoyable toy to play with and own, making the robot an excellent long-term purchase for any family.
Cozmo helps kids see their code come to life
An emotional little friend who delights
Appears simple, with complexity layered in for curious kids
Must use a phone which some parents may not like