Like a number of attendees, I was taken with ClicBot when I first saw it a few CESes ago. We’re all up to our ears in “educational” robotics kits. STEM education is important, of course, but the last few years have seen a real explosion in these types of toys, and your mileage will vary quite a bit depending on the line.
What really caught my eye, however, was how expressive the robot was. Anki’s last great contribution for the consumer robotics space effectively incorporated animated features into a real-world robot. Using a team of former Pixar and DreamWorks animators, the company effectively leverages the extraordinary expressiveness of the characters’ eyes, sounds and movements.
People were understandably quick to label Cosmo as “real like WALL-E” for the above reasons. Eventually, broader market forces intervened and Anki went under. But the company’s legacy lives on in a meaningful way through subsequent forays into the home robot market, including most notably Amazon’s Astro.
Naturally, I compared ClicBot to Cozmo. The title asked (and answered) whether ClicBot is a spiritual successor to Anki’s most famous product. “Mostly no, but maybe a little yes” was how I put it at the time. With KEYi Tech’s new robot, however, it’s downright undeniable (I mean it this time, folks). With Loona, the company trades the ClicBot’s modular buildability for some really impressive moves—so much so that I emailed the company for some raw video to make sure I wasn’t looking at renders.
The little robot on wheels – which went live on Kickstarter today (and quickly surpassed its $20,000 goal) — arrives in a very similar form factor to the Cozmo. But its movements are among the smoothest I’ve ever seen from a consumer robot. While the ‘bot isn’t close to the price of the Astro, it’s not cheap, retailing for $449. However, early backers will be able to score one for closer to Anki’s price, at $269-299. Obviously, all the usual crowdfunding risks apply here.
The robot has a number of sensors on board that allow it to interact with users through face, movement, body, object, gesture, voice and “emotion” recognition. It also features edge detection so it doesn’t go off the counter, and trajectory planning for better navigation. Fittingly, the company hopes to have the first batch shipped to backers in time for the holidays.