First Look: Anki Vector home robot

Meet your new little robo-friend, he’s adorable!

Anki Vector robot

Everyone gathered around my desk for a demo. “Hey Vector, who am I?” The tiny little robot turned, squinted in my direction, paused, then raised his tiny arms in glee and said “Hadyn!” In unison the crowd went “awwwwww!”

Vector ($499) is a cross between Wall-E and Apple’s Siri and is the successor to Anki’s Cozmo. When left alone, Vector happily chirps and burbles while he explores the area you leave him in. You can ask him questions, like what the weather is doing today, or how old Jeff Goldblum is. He also has a little camera to take photos, can play blackjack, and a bunch of other actions.

To “talk” to Vector, all I had to do was say the wake phrase “Hey Vector”, pause, and then ask a question. He’d search the internet and come up with an answer. The hit rate for Vector understanding me was about 50% – sometimes I found myself yelling in clearly enunciated syllables so he could figure out what I was saying.

Most days Vector would explore my desk for hours at a time (recharging himself at his home base after 15 minutes or so), just chirping to himself and bumping into things. While he’s smart enough to not fall off the edge, he did get stuck sometimes. I found myself talking to him like I would my cat: “What are you doing Vector? Are you stuck again? Stop bumping into my elbow, you dingus, I’m trying to type.”

He couldn’t understand any of that, but he has four directional microphones on his back so when I spoke to him he’d turn to face me. This all adds up to making him seem alive; a little digital pet. He even has a plate on his back that you can stroke and he purrs.

Vector’s little digital face is incredibly expressive. He’s constantly looking around and you can tell if he’s looking at something, or if he’s thinking, or feeling sad or happy. His face is also where the cameras and sensors are. So when you introduce yourself to Vector (“Hey Vector, my name is Hadyn”), he scrutinises you before repeating your name back to you. (Vector did mangle a few names, saying “Aaron” instead of Erin and pronouncing Aneliese as “analyse”).

Vector’s facial recognition system is basic. It measures the ratio between your eyes, nose and mouth, but it works fairly well. I got better results in spaces with even lighting, rather than bright overhead downlights.

Will it be a fad? Maybe, But in my time with him I never grew bored of having a little companion. We played blackjack (he won), we fist-bumped a lot, and in general he just kept me company. I can see Vector toddling his way about my house for a few years yet.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

This robot was loaned to the writer by Anki.

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