With Cozmo, it was love at first sight. SO, when the assignment for reviewing a toy was given to us, I could not think of going with anything else but Cozmo <3.
Cozmo is a very popular toy that had massive publicity when it launched in 2016. It was covered by most tech publications (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3) and people (me included!) have been going ga-ga about it. But does the toy hold up 2 years later? Let’s find out!
First stop, the cozmo website!
Cozmo is marketed as a toy with brains and personality. The home page (Link) talks about cozmo as a an accomplice that fits into your home and the first page has multiple videos of what Cozmo can do. It’s interesting to observe that the videos focus on Cozmo interacting with and doing things instead of its design and looks. Clearly, the company is confident in Cozmo’s personality as the driver for sales.
The second tab on the homepage is life with Cozmo which is an interesting choice. The tech tab is 4th in the navigation menu which usually is not the case. Most companies love to show of the tech first but the makers of Cozmo decide to stick with what it can do. *Applause*
One of the interesting features of animal detection is hidden inside the tech section. They could have brought it up front to convince families that Cozmo would fit into a family perfectly.
So, brains, personality, smarts and fun engagement for the whole family (animals included!) Does Cozmo hold up to promises? let’s find out.
My first stop is amazon where it has a great rating of 4.4! Link
Reading through the positive and negative comments, The observations are:
A lot of the negative issues are because of technical glitches, unresponsive support and quality control.
A few parents had an issue of how it was tethered to a mobile phone and they did not want their kids to be glued to a smartphone. This issue is going to be germane to a lot of smart devices in the future. How can we build stuff which does not need the mobile phone as a driver?
While most people love the personality of the toy, it gets repetitive after a while. How can developers keep building a personality of a device over extended period of times is a challenge and it will need to be addressed by the creators.
Cozmo has a high plateau of engagement. Some kids drop off very early and don’t see the point in the hassle of setting it up and playing with it. Whereas, the ones who have praised it seem to have stuck with it for a while.
So, clearly the personality is a hit but the intelligence seems to be quite basic. So i started to look at people who have been hacking into Cozmo and using it as a platform. And guess what! There is an ocean of such content!
Youtube is full of Cozmo hack videos Link
Someone made their own Link
The sub-reddit is extremely active with videos, support help, hacks, mods and what not! Link
In my observation, Cozmo has managed to create a small following of people who are invested in the platform but my feeling is that it has the same issues as the Kinect. People don’t see the value upfront as the out-of-the-box execution doesn’t hold up to the promises made but enthusiasts love it for the flexibility and extensibility it offers. I wonder what direction cozmo is going to take from here.
The biggest take-away for me after delving deep into the world of smart toys is:
With buzzwords like intelligent, smart and AI thrown around, are we setting high expectations from a toy which then fails to live up to the hype? How can we set realistic expectations?
Are we diluting what we mean by smartness? What is so smart about Cozmo as most of its behavior feels programmed rather than emergent?
How can the behavior of an AI toy feel more organic across time?
How can we design the out of the box experience in a way that connects with an impatient kid so that they does not give up on it within a few hours?
The creation of a personality is paramount to a smart device. I wonder how the designers, engineers and product development worked to create Cozmo’s unique personality. It’s a great case study and having worked on large teams, I can understand how hard it is to pull something like this off. The tight integration between multi-disciplinary teams is something that I would like to understand more of.
And while I chew on these questions, Here are a few lovely videos of Cozmo with animals