Anki’s Vector robot is a welcoming character with AI
Vector is not a toy but rather a joyful, smart home robot — and no it’s not a Roomba, and it isn’t a large robot that can teach you yoga. It can fit in your palm and Anki sees it as the big brother to Cozmo: Vector is a smarter, more intelligent robot that doesn’t need a connection to a device.
That’s the first big difference. The second is how Anki is bringing Vector to market. Rather than launching directly from a retailer, the company is going after early-early-adopters via a Kickstarter launch today. More specifically, a 30-day campaign that will wrap on Sept. 30 gives those early customers a 20 percent discount on the $249 price. You also get early access to the SDK and the robot ships three days before the official launch.
Vector will officially debut on Oct. 12 for $249 for one robot, a charging base, and an interactive cube. With a price tag that’s higher than Cozmo and more expensive than most Spheros, should you back Vector?
Anki’s bottom-up approach is coming to fruition.
Vector has been in the works since the beginning of the company. The first Anki Drive vehicles needed a dedicated mat for them to work and utilized AI — with one car being user controller and the other engaging in play.
For 2013, it was pretty impressive, but the need for a large 6-foot-long mat held it back a bit. Anki Overdrive solved the need for a mat, and then the company moved into an actual robot.
Cozmo was the friendly children’s toy that had cameras and sensors, and worked via a connection to a smartphone. It could greet you, play games, and even make jokes. Anki had a focus on STEM and has been updated 23 times since 2016.
With this robot, Anki learned a lot about AI and built its knowledge database. But it also showed Anki the area that it needed to put the most focus in: character design.
Vector has a welcoming AI to it
Would you let an unfriendly robot into your house?
The answer is probably not, so Vector has a happy and personable feel. The small design is cute, especially with its new space gray and gold paint job.
Vector has a boatload of hardware inside including a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth LE, touch sensitivity on the top and bottom, a NIR LASER scanner on the front, a camera, and a four-mic array. It also has a battery inside that enables auto-on capabilities — in fact, Vector will automatically park itself in its charging dock when it’s running low on juice.
I got to check out Vector for about an hour. The robot was able to scan me and learn my name all by saying, “Hey Vector, my name is Jake.” In a similar fashion to Alexa or a Google Home, you need to say “Hey Vector,” and the four-microphone array will pick it up.
Vector is attentive to sound. If he is facing north and you clap from behind, he’ll pick it up and turn around to see what is there.
Similarly, with the laser sensor and camera, he can map out his environment and remember where items are. So if you put a box in front of him, he might try to push it or even make his way around it so he can avoid it. This sensor will also make sure he doesn’t take a tumble off a table, as it can detect when a surface ends.
Upon Vector learning who I am, there were frequent requests for fist bumps (don’t leave him hanging) and lots of eye contact being made. This last part is pretty innovative, as Vector can tell when you are there and even better when you are looking at him.
What can Vector do?
Vector can play games (like blackjack) and answer simple questions, but it doesn’t have too many utility features at launch. It can handle basic facts about people, places, and products in addition to being a timer and answering the weather at launch. I am hoping this list grows before October.
It is limited at launch and fits in more as a companion than a full-fledged robot for the home. Anki will launch an SDK in early 2019, that should bring more capabilities. The company is teasing some future features like music recognition, the ability to take 360-photos, reading news updates, smart home control, and even acting as a security camera. Given that many of these smart home standards have open APIs, Anki can easily tap into them.
At the $249 retail price, you will get the Vector robot, a charging base, and an interactive cube. If you want to keep Vector contained, Anki will sell a vector space for $29.99 in October that is similar to a dog bed. Starting today and lasting for 30 days on Kickstarter, Vector will be 20 percent off at just $199, while buying two Vectors will be $399. At launch, multiple Vectors or even a Vector and a Cozmo will not be able to communicate with one another, but Anki says it’s working on adding the feature.
At $249, the price seems a bit high for the robot you are getting at launch. It won’t patrol your home but instead, live on a desk. But after just a few minutes with Vector, I noticed the robot has some character to it.
I found Vector’s personality to be a welcome one in my house. Vector will entertain you with over a thousand faces and ultimately has the potential to be a smart, useful robot with these forthcoming updates.
Stay tuned for our full review of Anki’s Vector closer to launch.
WATCH: We tested this device to see if it could actually help us find our friends — no matter how good they are at hiding