There are a number of STEM kits on the market which teach kids to build a robot and then program it, but Anki is taking a slightly different approach. Today, the company is adding significant coding capabilities to Cozmo, a powerful robotic toy that comes ready-to-use right out of the box.
On the market since 2016, the $179 Cozmo is a social robot that recognizes faces with its built-in camera, maps its surroundings to navigate around a room and plays games with users, often involving three special blocks it communicates with wirelessly. Existing Cozmo users will notice the new Code Lab features appear as part of an automatic update to the toy's mobile app, which runs on Android, iOS or Amazon Fire mobile devices.
Designed for children as young as six years old, Cozmo Code Lab uses MIT's block-based Scratch coding language, which makes it easy for users to write their own programs, just by dragging different commands around the screen and connecting them together. Using this simple system, kids can make the robot use all of its capabilities, including its powerful facial recognition functions.
During a brief demo, Anki president, Hanns Tappeiner showed me how to program Cozmo to recognize when it sees a person smiling and use that as trigger to perform one of its animations (coordinated movements). With Code Lab, kids can set the robot to perform all kinds of movements, from picking up its blocks to rolling around obstacles or speaking short phrases, based on what it detects from its camera, its accelerometer or the sensors in its three blocks. Anki's YouTube video, embedded below, shows Code Lab in action.
To help kids learn to program Cozmo, Code Lab comes with over two dozen tutorials built in. WIth the initial update, users will only be able to write code with blocks that sit horizontally and therefore do not support complex programs that use If / Then statements or arithmetic. A fall update will add the ability to stack the code blocks vertically and use all the features.
The more-limited functions of the horizontal code blocks make them easier for beginners. All of the the initial blocks are represented by icons rather than words so children can learn to code before they can read. For example, the smile detection event block has an icon of a face on it, something even a young kid can understand.
In addition to Code Lab, Anki also announced four colorful treads to customize Cozmo's looks. Available in September for $14.99, the treads will come in Osmosis Blue, Luminous Lime, New Dawn Yellow and Crimson Flame hues. You can pre-order them starting today on Anki's website.