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Anki Launches Cozmo Software That Lets Developers Code All They Want

Photo from Anki

Anki, the startup company behind the tiny Cozmo robot, has announced a launch of a new software development kit that will highlight the robot’s artificial intelligence prowess, which includes facial recognition, text-to-speech and positional tracking, Digital Trend reports.

Cozmo was a robot toy that could recognize faces, get bored when ignored and throw a tantrum when it lost a game.

Anki will now be making its updated software available to any developer who wants to tap into the potential and come up with their own inventions.

Hanns Tappeiner, president and co-founder of the San Francisco-based company, said at a showcase in New York City that they had two reasons for releasing the software. First, Cozmo is made up of so many mechanical parts, such as a gyroscope, an accelerometer, cameras, motorized joints and a drop sensor, that Anki wants to simplify into functions that even first-time programmers can understand and use. Second, the company wants to get Cozmo’s more advanced features in a neat, friendly format that is conducive to further development.

The primary goal, Tappeiner said, is to give incredibly powerful resources to both experts and novices alike. These resources have been developed for up to four years and have “thousands of lines of code” behind them, making them ripe for many applications. Tappeiner compared it to the rise of smartphone apps, saying, “Pre-2007, if you wanted to be a mobile developer, you had to be a hardcore professional. Only after the iPhone and Android has it become easy enough that almost anyone can make an app.”

But the complexity of robotics might prove to be a hurdle. While developing a middling to highly advanced smartphone app might require only basic knowledge, programming a robot requires higher level skills. Simple routines like getting the robot to move in a straight line might seem simple, but the code for it is anything but.

Anki’s solution to this complexity is in the form of functions, of single-code, easy-to-use resources that summarize years of company research. Cozmo’s software development kit, which developers can access by running a smartphone or tablet running on Anki’s companion app on their computers, has hundreds of individual functions that allow developers to essentially “play” with everything from facial recognition to object avoidance.

A few examples Tappeiner showed off as LookAround, which enables the robot to drive around and identify “things of interest” it is curious about or that it doesn’t recognize, or RollBlock, that lets Cozmo knock down toy blocks on command.

The tools included in the software are vast. The facial recognition and tracking is accurate enough to detect gender and age, and there’s even a function for tracking pets.

Aside from the functions, the more knowledgeable programmers can make their own code to add to the list, said Tappeiner, which paves the way for any integration with devices connected to the internet using a compatible web API. For example, Cozmo can be paired with lightbulbs to dim the lights in a room, or start a wireless appliance.

The software will be released in stages, Tappeiner said. Phase 1 is geared towards the tinkering developers like hackers, students and researchers. A more stable release will follow, and will include support for visual programming languages.

The functions can be a high level, so it’s easy to wrap a graphical block around them,” Tappeiner said. “Kids will have access to actions like, ‘tell me whether the robot sees my mom right now.’”

Anki is already partnering with some “leading academic institutions, research labs and companies, and leaders in…education” to see if Cozmo can be incorporate in school curriculums.

The most significant addition to Cozmo, support for third-party app publishing, won’t appear until the software’s final, third phase. Anki has not come up with a distribution or pricing model yet, but the company is looking to head the installation of custom apps beyond places like Github. Tappeiner said that the biggest challenge in that is finding a way to work with the restrictions imposed on developers by some mobile app stores.

Cozmo can now be pre-ordered at the discounted price of $160. It will retail for $180 in October, and will begin shipping with the new software kit in the coming months.



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