Ankia’s Vector Home Robot is Siri Meets Wall-E
If we’re going to get robots in all of our future Jetsons homes than we’re going to have to stop speculating about it and start actually doing it. At least, that’s what Anki believes. Other companies produce pricey prototype and frighteningly powerful robots that only live inside hypothetical labs. But Anki wants to create humble deep learning machines people can actually afford and therefore have impressive yet more modest and friendlier sets of features.
This philosophy worked well with Anki’s successful Cozmo kid robot and Overdrive smart racing toys. But Vector, the team’s next product, is going for something more mature. We recently got to check out this upcoming smart home robot that’s basically Siri meets Wall-E.
Anki compares Vector’s power to a tablet, and that makes sense looking at its raw specs. It’s got a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad Core 1.2GHz processor, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, cameras and microphones, touch sensing, and an optional companion mobile app. But what makes it more than just a computer is the way all this technology is presented.
Superficially similar to Cozmo, Vector is a little palm-sized robot. But the gizmo’s bigger brain allows it to act more like an autonomous organism since it doesn’t need to pair to an app. This is a crux of Anki’s ambition with this device. They intend for Vector to be robot that just roams around your house learning and helping users out with its own A.I. agency. It can even navigate back to its charging stand on its own. The goal is for users to get comfortable with Vector just always being around and forge a more social, personal connection compared to static one-way interactions like giving Alexa a command.
To pull this off, the team has put a lot of work into making Vector this plausible puppy-like critter you play and live with. Its movements were created by 3D cartoon animators working with a virtual version of the limited physical design. Combined with the expressive light up eyes and in person Vector has a stunning amount of charm for a pile of parts. It sells the illusion that the machine really is exploring its environment and reacting to your specific voice and touch. It’s like a Pixar creation in how it endearingly avoids the uncanny valley. Even when it doesn’t respond “properly” to you it feels right in an animal kind of way.
Vector’s actual functionality beyond companionship is a little more standard. It can tell you the time, weather, and answers to search questions pulled from online cloud data. It can act as a timer. If you give it security permissions it can use its camera like a watchdog or just take nice pictures of you. It can even play Blackjack and other games with its little cube.
Vector’s integration with other smart home technology, whether it’s smart speakers or light bulbs, is still a bit up in the air though. That’s unfortunate because concrete details there would go a long way towards improving the product’s actual practical utility. I want Vector to start playing some vaporwave music if I pet it in just the right way. But what is cool is that soon Vector will eventually support accessible coding languages like Scratch and Python.
Its features may still need some fleshing out, but conceptually and tangibly Vector is absolutely a robot I’d let roll around my apartment hanging out with me or just doing its own thing. If you’re also interested than check out Anki’s Kickstarter early pre-order campaign before Vector launches for real on October 12 for $250.