By Sheri Kasprzak, Managing Editor
Behind Blue Eyes: A Look Inside
the Tech That Drives ANKI’s Cozmo
Think of him as a combination of WALL-E and Johnny 5
from Short Circuit, two significant inspirations for last year’s
must-have holiday gift.
The blinky, digital blue eyes, which are now nearly iconic,
were a matter of debate. In some early iterations, Cozmo’s
emotive eyes were dotted with pupils. Pupils looked peculiar
on the bot and teetered into uncanny valley territory, referring
to the hypothesis that human-like characteristics on a nonhuman replica elicit feelings of revulsion and eeriness.
“We wanted to create a real-life robotic character, the kind
you only see in movies,” Hanns Tappeiner, co-founder of ANKI,
tells me in a Zoom interview from his San Francisco office.
An entire team was brought onboard to develop Cozmo’s
appearance and character. How would he react if he lost a
game? Would he be angry? Sad? Frustrated? Those emotions
had to fit with the character traits developed by this team.
His behavior and personality were incorporated into his
artificial intelligence, which runs on an app. You can play
games through a smart device, including a game that requires
you and the bot to tap blocks as certain color patterns
emerge. If you win, Cozmo might pout. He might even
get angry and throw a block. But he also learns from the
experience; the more games he plays, the smarter he gets.
MEETING NEW FACES
Cozmo interacts with people, so he needed some way to
detect faces with those digital blue eyes. He was equipped
with vision-sensing, face-detection, and motion-estimation
capabilities. In theory, Cozmo only sees in two dimensions,
but 3D vision can be simulated by moving the cameras.
Not only can he see faces, he can also remember them,
thanks to neural networks and deep learning artificial
intelligence. Between his inception and January 2017,
Cozmo met 350,000 new faces.
The Cozmo who greets you by name, however, is the last
of 44 iterations. One of the earliest prototypes had just 27
parts compared to the more than 360 parts comprising the
current version. Those parts include three circuit boards, five
cameras, and a gyroscope.
Perhaps the most important part of all is its emotion-based
AI. “He doesn’t behave the same way every day,” Tappeiner
says. This AI was modeled after the Big Five personality
traits – the concept that all human emotions are based upon
five factors – openness to experience, conscientiousness,
extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
For example, Cozmo’s confidence levels rise every time
he wins a game, and this factors into his future behavior.
In fact, his emotions, behavior, and reactions are all coded
right in, so if he completes an action and a certain outcome
is experienced, he will behave a certain way. It’s not always
the same reaction, however, and his responses are heavily
nuanced depending upon past experiences and outcomes.
Cozmo, the self-aware robot developed by ANKI, seems like a cuddly cartoon character − and that’s all by design.
COZMO: BY THE
• Made of over 360 parts
• 1.6 million lines of code
• More than 42 minutes of
• Over 200 assembly steps
• More than 800
• More than 1.9 million
• Explored more than 3. 4
million square feet –
equal to 5. 8 times the
area of the base of the
Great Pyramid of Giza