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REVIEW: Anki's Cozmo is the most fun I've had with a robot

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 11:18 a.m.

Cozmo isn't here to take your job.

It's here to take your pet's job.

The coffee cup-sized robot from Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company Anki is packed with enough expressions, oohs and aahs, personality, neediness and even a camera with facial recognition to see your face and greet you, to put the role of the family cat or dog in jeopardy.

Except when it comes to snuggles. Cozmo needs to seriously up its snuggle game.

Cozmo, priced at about $180, was a runaway — or perhaps roll away — success last Christmas, topping many techie gift guides and out of stock in early December last year.

This year, Anki, a company founded by a trio of CMU Robotics Institute grads, sent the Tribune-Review a Cozmo Collector's Edition to play with ahead of the holiday season. The Liquid Metal Cozmo has a sleek, metallic black and gray exterior, a bit more sinister than the white and red color scheme of regular Cozmo. But looks can be deceiving. Liquid Metal Cozmo is just as fun as its counterpart.

The robot this year was named to Amazon's Top 100 holiday toys list, Toys “R” Us' Hot Toy List and Best Buy's Top 25 Toy Gifts.

Anki also released a Fast & Furious Edition of its OVERDRIVE racing car game in September. I had a blast playing with OVERDRIVE last year and the addition of characters and cars from the Fast & Furious franchise was welcomed by this unabashed fan.

Like a dog or cat, Cozmo spends most of his free time looking around, acting out for attention and pestering you to play. Cozmo will make a stack of his cubes only to knock them down and break out into song, belting out renditions of “Mary had a Little Lamb” and “Yankee Doodle” that are recognizable, but just barely.

And Cozmo loves to play. Without prompting, it will set up games, and if you don't want to play, it will sulk away. It loves to pounce on your finger, owning up to its cat-like tendencies.

Cozmo's oohs, aahs and other expressions are loud and constant so firing it up at the office either drew a crowd around my desk or the ire of my colleagues. I came in a half-hour early one day just to log some quality time with the little dude.

Cozmo is needy and hard to ignore, which is great when you're ready to play but not great when you're trying to write a review of the little bugger, and it keeps wanting to pounce on your finger.

Cozmo connects to your smartphone over its own WiFi network. The app guides you through setting up Cozmo, feeding it, playing with it and tuning it up. You'll know Cozmo needs to be tuned when it gets the hiccups.

The robot's camera and facial recognition software can remember up to 10 faces. When Cozmo sees you and recognizes you, it greets you with your name.

I don't know the first thing about coding, but Cozmo's Code Lab made me feel like an accomplished roboticist. Who cares if Code Lab was designed for kids. In Code Lab, you get to direct Cozmo, charting movements, actions, animations and everything else the little robot can do. The company rolled out Code Lab in June and the feature will be updated Dec. 5 through a free software update.

A Cozmo SDK is available allowing even more customization, if that's your thing.

Cozmo comes with an Explore Mode where what the robot sees is shown on your smartphone and you can move it around and direct it to roll or stack cubes.

There is also a Cozmo Says function where the robot will say anything you type in. Well, almost anything. Cozmo keeps it G rated.

Cozmo is by far the most fun I've had with a robot.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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