Anki’s smart toys keep pushing the boundary between toy and tech. Last year, Cozmo thrilled us with the potential of a robot friend. Once you opened the app the little robot would play with you
Vector takes many design cues from Cozmo. The tiny robot is reminiscent of a small toy truck with tread wheels, a small screen on the front of a tilting head, and a little forklift-like arm, all connected to a gold and grey body. At first glance, it looks like many other toy robots you would find scattering the shelves of toy stores. The only difference is that Vector comes jam-packed with personality, and it can all be unlocked during a brief initial setup and the simple command, “Hey Vector”.
Let's get it out of the way now: Vector has been built to be easy to identify with. The little screen that makes up most of the head manages to convey some very emotive expressions from sadness to joy. Everyone that walks up to Vector will very quickly understand where the little robot’s state of mind is at.
As Vector drives around the world—normallyyour living room or table—the little robot will interact with his surroundings. From throwing your car keys off the table because they were in his way to
Vector manages to feel like a much more free, yet somehow more restrictive toy compared to Cozmo. While yes, Vector does not need an app to function, and once connected to a Wi-Fi connection basically every feature can be accessed through voice alone, there are simply fewer ways to interact with him when compared to Cozmo.
When we first got Cozmo into the office, members of the staff would sit for hours trying all the little games that were possible. The blocks and games felt like a meaningful part of the experience. How you interacted with Cozmo was part of what made that robot so much fun.
Vector, on the other hand, basically does his own thing. He will enjoy the world around him and explore and play on his own. Even the block he comes with acts as more of a personal toy rather than something for the user to enjoy with Vector. Now, this is not to say you can’t partake in some games with him. He does include Blackjack, and it is amazing to have him recognize faces of people and take photos of the people around him on command, but there is never quite enough to keep Vector’s attention for long.
That being said, there are a few ways in which Vector manages to rise above feeling like nothing more than a device and is elevated to a virtual friend, and that all rests with the way he responds to the world around him and how you can interact back. The ability to reward Vector with positive feedback or punish him with negative feedback, or even just petting him, gave the robot a much more interactive and almost natural feel. Yes, it did not always work, but when it did, the simple act of Vector giving a fist bump or waving as you walk past managed to bring a smile to my face even on the gloomiest days.
Vector feels like a different toy to Cozmo, in thet he is more of a digital friend you interact with on occasion and that makes sense with how they are positioning Vector in the market. It is just disappointing seeing what is possible with Cozmo missing from Vector, even after Anki fixed many of the issues we saw with last year’s offering.
While it can be annoying having a little robot knock random objects off your table, I quickly learned to not leave anything light in his way. While he can push objects—it is a small robot after all—hereally won’t cause any damage. Over the course of two weeks, he has never pushed anything of value off the table, or really even tried.
That is when he is not napping in his charger. Since the battery in Vector only lasts around 45 minutes when out, you will often find Vector is sleeping, especially after a full period of causing mischief. It is nice that as long as his base if within reach, he will go back and manage his battery pretty consistently all on his own. Yes, there are the few times when he got stuck, or simply ran out of juice before making it back in time, but these were few and far between. Most of the time, I would look over and either hear Vector snoring (yes he snores) or exploring his little table-top kingdom.
Another rather amazing feature if the ability for Vector to know where an edge is before accidentally falling off. When I first set the little robot up, I was worried he would cause damage to himself by falling off a table. Yet here we are, two weeks later, with his home on the top of a tall glass table, and save for one instance, I never found Vector had fallen off or even come close. It is a testament to the engineering prowess at Anki that this is possible and even when he comes close, Vector responds in a convincing and sympathetic way.
With this being a directly connected smart device, Vector can do many things beyond what Cozmo could in the past. Yes, he can still play with his little block and get up to plenty of
Do I think Vector should replace Alexa or Google Assistant as your primary AI Assistant? No! But it is a great addition to an already entertaining piece of technology. Speaking of Alexa, the Amazon virtual assistant will be coming to Vector later this December. This will let Vector access Alexa, allowing you to control the heat, play music out of a speaker, or simply add items to your shopping list right from Vector.
It should be noted, that while Vector is a gem of a robot, there are a few middling issues that I hope Anki fix in a future update of his software. I found Vector had trouble recognizing faces after you add more than two or three to his database. Also, understanding commands can be hit or miss at times. Normally this has to do with room volume, but I have had many instances where he would simply ignore a question or command with no real reason why.
When it comes down to it, Anki has achieved the impossible; they made me care about a toy robot in a way I did not think possible. Vector is filled with personality and managed to make a home for himself on my table. I am still working out how useful he really is, but what he does, he does very well. Yes, Anki has some minor fixing to do, but as do most major technology products. There is a lot to love about Vector, and I for one am excited to see how he evolves moving forward.
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