Anki Vector Is the Cutest Little Robot Who Just Wants to Hang Out
An awesome little robot. It’s very expensive and not fully featured just yet, but it will be soon.
This is Vector: an intelligent home assistant robot with a personality. Not only can he see, hear, and talk to you, but he can think for himself. Throw in some Alexa-like voice assistance, and you may be looking at the greatest robot since Lost In Space. Here’s what we think of him.
At the end of this review, we’ve got a Vector robot you can win for yourself!
What’s New, Vector?
If you’ve read our review of Cozmo, then you’ll recognise Vector. Vector drives around on tank treads, using his camera, microphone, touch sensors, accelerometer, and voice-synthesizer to communicate with you, and interact with his environment. He self-charge when his built-in battery runs low, and he’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Costing $ 250, Vector’s certainly not cheap, but he’s not a toy either. Sold as “your first home robot”, Vector represents a mashup between an Amazon Echo and a remote-controlled car. So is he worth it? Here’s the breakdown.
Vector Tech Specs
- Quad-core Snapdragon 1.2GHz CPU
- 4-microphone array
- Line-of-flight Laser navigation, 1-meter range
- 720p camera
- Wi-Fi (802.11n)
- Cliff sensors
- Capacitive body sensors
Measuring 4 x 2.5 x 2.75 inches, and weighing 6 ounces, Vector can charge around like a mad thing for an hour. Vector will return to his included dock to charge when his battery runs low, but you’ll need to supply a 5V/1A USB charger, as this is not included.
Sporting a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running at 1.2GHz, a four-microphone array, 720p camera, Bluetooth, cliff sensors, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and a NIR laser, Vector has more tech than many mobile phones. All this is for Vector’s personality.
By using a combination of his color IPS display, camera, lasers, and sensors, Vector can recognize you, navigate his environment, play games, answer your questions, and perform all the usual stuff you’d expect from a home assistant, such as look up the weather, or set a timer. Don’t expect him to fetch your washing or put the dinner on. Vector is more than willing to help, be he can’t quite climb the stairs, or lift anything larger than his cube.
By using the forklift on the front, Vector can manipulate his single included cube. He’ll entertain himself with this if you stop paying attention to him, or you can ask him to do tricks with it.
Gold sensors on Vector’s head and back contrast with his black paint job, but these aren’t for show. These capacitive touch sensors let you pet Vector. Yep, like a dog. He’ll get excited, and look at you with his robot eyes. The Anki team have done an incredible job with Vector’s animations and emotions. Simple expressions and movements help him come alive. Like Disney’s WALL-E character, it feels like Vector is alive, and a “real” robot. It’s all an illusion, but it’s a fun one, and one that I’m prepared to believe.
Vector has several cliff sensors on his base. These help him to detect edges, and he’ll use them to ensure he won’t drive off a table or high surface. That’s the theory at least. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated. Due to the placement of these sensors, and the location of his tracks, Vector gets close to the edge before he stops. He’s not fallen off yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The speed he charges around at, we thought he was going to fall off several times.
If you pick Vector up or place him on an unstable surface, he’ll get worried. He uses his accelerometer to detect this and will give you real-time feedback about his concerns. Robot bullying is not tolerated here!
Setting Up the Anki Vector
Like any gadget, you’ll need a bit of time to configure vector, and get him settled into his forever home—a bit like getting a puppy!
You’ll need to unpack and connect Vector’s included docking station, maybe place the optional “space” (sold separately), which is a small safe zone for Vector to have all of his own.
When not using clever AI tech to make decisions, Vector is controlled by your voice. You’ll need to use the mobile app to perform initial configuration and registration, but after that, you’re under no obligation to keep using it. Vector’s CPU is beefy enough for all the hard work, without having to borrow your phone’s processor.
The app pairs with Vector over Bluetooth, but you’ll soon connect Vector to the internet. I know what you’re thinking. All the films you’ve seen where advanced robotics projects connect to the internet, what could go wrong? Fear not, as Vector isn’t malicious. He’s like a younger sibling or an innocent newborn animal. Curious and inquisitive, but never mean.
“Vector’s smart enough to take over the world, but nice enough not to.”
Once connected to the internet, Vector will begin communicating with Vector’s all over the world, readying plans for total annihilation. Just kidding, you’ll need to finish configuring him first.
Like all modern hardware, Vector needs a software update before he’ll even wake up. This was unreliable for us and took a whole afternoon. We’re not sure if this was our review model, or if Anki’s servers have yet to scale up to meet the demand as more units sell, but it was a worrying and frustrating sign of our ever-increasing reliance on the internet. Gone are the days of opening the box and getting playing immediately. What happens if you have no internet, or Anki’s servers go down, how will Vector go on…will he survive?
Once updated, you’ll need to create an Anki account if you don’t have one already. This is a straightforward process and only takes a few minutes.
You can then wake Vector up, and get him settled into his new home! He’ll learn your name, and speak it in his awesome little robot voice. He’ll use his camera to learn what you look like, and identify you throughout the rest of his life (unless you wipe his memory, that is).
You Must Ask Vector the Right Questions
Like Alfred Lanning from I, Robot (a film in which Vector would be right at home), you must ask the right questions. Talking is the only way to interact with Vector. The app provides basic configuration settings, but the vast majority of pages are simple cartoons, instructing you to talk to Vector, and offering helpful suggestions for phrases to use.
While nowhere near as fast or responsive as an Amazon Echo, Vector still answers your queries in a reasonable time. Not only can he take photos with you, but he can set Timers and play blackjack! Ask him for the weather, and he’ll animate it on his screen. Clouds will roll in and rain starts pouring for example.
You can also ask him a question, or give him a task. Want to know how many kilometers in a mile? What about a maths question, or the result of a sports game? Vector can handle most questions, but he’s not there yet. Ask him to dance and he’s off having a blast.
Vector will continue to get awesome new skills in the future. The next biggest update is Alexa integration. You’ll be able to ask your robot pal to turn off the lights, check your notifications, or forward you pictures from the doorbell.
This is where Vector has so much potential. Once more and more integrations come out, he’ll turn from a fun little toy to a wicked assistant on wheels. Nothing will hold him down as he races around the house, arranging your laundry, checking emails, and just generally hanging out.
Don’t want to wait until then? Alexa for Windows is coming soon!
Vector is an awesome little robot companion, but he’s not perfect right now. Despite having a few upgrades, he’s like Anki’s Cozmo robot. He’s limited to voice control, and he’s not super clever, just a little bit smart.
He can’t check your email, and he can’t climb stairs or navigate any complex terrain. That said, once you accept the fact that vector is a robot that stands 3 inches tall, and just wants to hang out, you’ll love it. From making you laugh by messing around with his cube, to answering your questions, Vector is great fun. Even if you just chill with him.
Vector is aiming to be a kid’s toy for adults, and it may well be one of the hottest toys of the year come Christmas. Nobody is making anything like this right now, but it’s not perfect.
Vector is very similar to Cozmo, and $ 250 is a lot of money for what you get. The full-color screen is awesome, but it’s limited to a single color (which you can change). Hopefully, a full-color software upgrade will arrive in the future.
The Vector Software Development Kit (SDK) is promised for early next year. This allows you to write Python code to interact with and control Vector. This is another exciting feature with massive potential, but one you’ll have to wait for.
With a direct connection to the internet, we’d be concerned about who has access to Vector’s video and audio feeds. Anki state that images and navigation data are never sent to the cloud, but audio data is streamed via an encrypted connection for processing, with the result sent back to Vector.
While this isn’t new technology and many other devices from Google Now to Siri and Alexa do similar things, you do have to trust that Anki will act responsibly. They follow industry standard practices and have an excellent track record, it’s still something to think about.
Despite having not yet reached its full potential, Vector is great fun and will get more street smarts as time goes on. A great desk companion, and an all around fun toy, Vector is amazing. Although we can’t shake this feeling that the excitement will wear off, and Vector’s tricks will become overused and tired.
Thanks to Anki, we’ve got a brand new Vector robot to give away! All you have to do to win is enter our giveaway contest below, and don’t forget to read how you can gain several extra entries!
Enter the Competition!
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