Hopes for new AI pet robot Cozmo to become part of the family

An artificial intelligence-powered toy robot that can recognise faces could help human-robot relationships, its developer has claimed.

Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:55 am
Robot pet Cozmo, made by robotics firm Anki

Cozmo, a small robotic pet that has been designed with the help of animators and games developers by robotics firm Anki, will be available in the UK this week.

The robot, which will cost £200 when it goes on sale on September 15, has an AI-powered "emotion engine" and scans its surroundings and people in it, constantly interacting with them by playing games and responding to facial expressions.

Anki chief product officer Mark Palatucci said Cozmo, which launched in the US last year, says interactive robots will soon become more common.

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Robot pet Cozmo, made by robotics firm Anki

"I think if you look at the general field of human-robot interaction and if you think about humans interfacing withrobots or with AI bots, I think personality and that emotional connection and the context is only going to continue to develop," he said.

"We want that relationship that you have with the robot to really be something natural, and have it be organic - the way you would interact with a pet in your home or with a friend or another human being."

Cozmo can be trained to do tricks as well as change its mood as it receives attention and plays with three small blocks.

The robot can also be controlled via a connected smartphone app.

Robot pet Cozmo, made by robotics firm Anki

Many forms of artificial intelligence are already prominent today - including virtual assistants such as Amazon's Alexa, which can already control other appliances, but Mr Palatucci said human interaction with these products must improve for robotics to become truly useful.

"Our focus as a company has really been taking this tech and turning it into consumer applications - robots that you can use around the home," he said.

"In this case with a pet robot, we're trying to have this robot really become part of the family but, on our road map, we very much think about robots that have utility purposes and more functional purposes.

"Anki really wants to be at the forefront of driving personal home robotics that people have and can use on a daily basis."

He added that personality and character were crucial to Cozmo.

"When we started working on the very early stages of the development, we said we need to find people who really understand that human bond with a character," he said.

"Being in San Francisco we're very lucky that right across the bridge is Pixar, where there's an incredible number of talented people who really understand depth of character and there's a lot of work behind the scenes really thinking about who is Cozmo, as a character - what are his needs? What are his personality traits?

"At Anki now, we have a team of over 10 people who just think about Cozmo the character and when we think about any type of game or activity we say, 'Is this true to his character? Is this true to what he's trying to achieve?' and 'Does it actually make sense for Cozmo as we define him?'"

The robotics firm also said it had also developed the robot with privacy and security in mind, claiming Cozmo is "not online" when in use and any data gathered by the device stops at the smartphone app it is connected to.

Mr Palatucci also said the public should not fear the growth of AI, despite warnings by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has raised concerns over the risk of AI outgrowing and overpowering humanity in the future.

"On AI, we take a very optimistic view of it, sometimes in the media certain things can be overhyped a bit in terms of a view on where they can evolve," he said.

"There's nothing that's going to make Cozmo randomly decide one day to do something nefarious and again it really comes back to the programming.

"The human is still programming these robots and the human is setting the robot's objectives and constraints and ultimately it's a human that's deciding the range of behaviour that this robot is able to do and perform.

"We've really programmed him (Cozmo) to just focus on fun and in everything we do that's going to be our focus."