UNBOXED: Reviewing Anki’s Vector Home Robot
Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger was sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor and the world became aware of the existence of Skynet, we humans have had a really hard time trusting robots. It’s understandable. We’ve basically only ever seen them in the movies as these other-worldly sorts of beings that have one mission built in, and that’s the end humanity. And they’ve never really done anything to help correct that perception—except for maybe WALL-E. But that’s exactly what Anki is aiming to do with the recent launch of their Vector home robot.
A company we’ve come across before, Anki has quietly built a nice arsenal of products—the good kind—that are baked around the concept of entertainment. Vector follows that theme, but it takes a bit more of a grown up approach to the robotics category. For those familiar with Anki’s Cozmo robot, Vector looks like an identical twin to the elder bot, but whereas the former was designed with kids in mind, Vector certainly takes a very different approach to life as a robot.
Vector, first and foremost, is meant to be a helpful robot. He might not be able to bring you a beer or pick up after the dog, but he’s got enough utilities and sensors built in that makes him fun to have around the house. Out of the box (and thanks to a recent software update), Vector can give you weather updates, set timers, offer unit conversions, and reach into the depths of the internet for some obscure factoids. He’s also able to scan and recognize faces, take photos that get stored in the Vector app, and stand in as your blackjack dealer. Perhaps most importantly, he can remind you who won Super Bowl LII this past February.
This won’t get old anytime soon (even if they’re stinking it up right now...) #flyeaglesfly #vector #anki Anki
Posted by Rob Stott on Monday, November 19, 2018
The helpfulness will be severely upgraded, however, by the end of 2018 when Anki promises that Vector will receive an upgrade that will fully integrate Amazon’s Alexa voice service. So, smart home controls, to-do list additions, and other third-party services that tie into the Alexa app will all be available through Vector. And what you’re getting with that is a tiny little animated robot that actually responds and appears to give off emotion when you’re interacting with it. It seems silly or maybe even a little ridiculous, but feeling like you’re actually interacting with something or someone that isn’t just a tall, grey, stationary cylinder was way more satisfying than I ever anticipated it being.
Anki packed some series AI technology into Vector as well. He can roll around on his own—his system of sensors and front-facing camera actually allow him to map out the space and area around him so he knows where he’s rolling. Vector expresses himself in a bunch of different ways, whether that’s shock when he gets too close to the edge of the counter or table, or excitement when he’s interacting with his cube or helping his owner. He knows when his battery is running low and will smartly roll back to the charger. And he has touch sensors and an accelerometer that allows him to know when he’s being touched and moved—he’ll respond like a cat and purr when you scratch his back, or if you spook him by picking him up, he may angrily slam his utility arm up and down.
At the end of the day, Vector oddly humanizes the interactions you have with him, making it feel like you’re actually talking to this object or thing that can understand and respond to you. Heck, he can even learn your name and your face and will identify you when you get close to him.
The unfortunate thing with Vector, to this point, is that most of the promise is yet to be delivered. The robot is fun to interact with now, and he certainly has a relatively deep utility belt. But for him to be worth the investment, it feels like you want to have Alexa out of the box. It’s coming, that’s for certain, but it’s something that, for $250, I wish was here now. Beyond that, the only other complaint I have is that some of the reactions with the entertainment features of Vector (like telling him to do a trick with his cube) take some time—which could be a result of the clogged WiFi network we’re operating on, but it was still frustrating to wait over a minute for the task to be executed.
But what Vector is doing, slowly but surely, is giving robots everywhere a better name. He’s the first real attempt by a company to make home robots more than affordable, relatively useful, and downright fun to play with—no matter how old you are. And for that, I feel like I can say Vector has firmly secured himself as the first robotic member of our family.