Pixar-inspired Cozmo robot has big personality, big screen hopes

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A new palm-sized robot is vying to become a favorite toy, equipped with a cheeky personality and hopes for a possible future entertainment franchise.

Cozmo, a palm-sized microbot armed with sensors, motors and visual capabilities and controlled using a smartphone, is the latest product from San Francisco-based robotics startup Anki, the makers of Overdrive robotic race car toy sets.

Cozmo is not the first smartphone-controlled robotic toy. Similar products are available that can teach kids to code or just play games and perform tricks such as Sphero’s popular smartphone-controlled “Star Wars” BB-8 droid.

But most robot toys do not come equipped with the capability to learn over time, Anki Chief Executive Boris Sofman said.

“There’s certainly a lot of products out there that want to be a pet or a toy robot or robot companion, but all of them really lack the ability to truly see and understand their environment,” Sofman said.

Cozmo’s personality is driven by artificial intelligence as he learns to recognize familiar faces and play games such as Quick Tap, in which he challenges a player to match colors.

When he loses a game, he throws his building blocks in a tantrum, and when he wins, he likes to show off.

“He wants to be this Jedi master but he’s not quite there yet so he has to uncover his skills … and you’re there to help him,” Sofman said.

If it looks like a Pixar character, that is because Cozmo, out in October and priced at $179, was inspired by the playful, heart warming bots seen in animated films such as “Wall-E,” and co-designed by a former Pixar animator.

“As we were looking at these movies from Pixar, from DreamWorks, at these incredible characters, we started asking what would it take to make a character like that actually come to life in the real world,” Sofman said.

Anki envisions a future on the big screen for Cozmo, including new robot friends and a possible weekly episodic series.

“We’re looking at the franchise as a studio for interactive characters and stories,” Sofman said.

Amid wider public concerns of how apps can collect data from users to pass onto other parties, Sofman said Cozmo pairs solely with individual users’ smartphones and no information leaves the device.

“There’s no personal or identifiable information that’s actually being in any way transmitted,” Sofman said.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Richard Chang)