Cozmo visual Code Lab makes robotics programmers out of kids

cozmo code lab robot 017
Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends
Cozmo, the miniature toy that looks kind of like a makeshift forklift, was one of last year’s coolest toys. The AI-powered companion learns names and faces, plays games, and even develops a personality as it gets to know your preferences. But Anki, the San Francisco, California-based startup behind Cozmo, thinks it has just scratched the surface of the little robot’s potential.

To that end, Anki announced Code Lab, a visual programming feature built into Cozmo’s companion app for smartphones and tablets, on Monday. Using Code Lab, kids can reorder sequences of digital blocks to create basic programs — and learn basic robotics along the way.

“Everything we do at Anki is in an effort to advance the state of robotics, whether that is kids learning coding for the first time, or Ph.D. students solving complex computer vision challenges in a lab with Cozmo,” Boris Sofman, CEO and cofounder at Anki, said. “With the launch of Code Lab, Cozmo now helps kids develop the logic and reasoning skills that programming requires.”

Code Lab follows on the heels of Anki’s software developer kit, which lets hobbyists tap into Cozmo’s hardware using Python. Hanns Tappeiner, Anki’s president and co-founder, sees it as an evolutionary step toward an easier-to-use, kid-focused STEM platform.

“Everything you can do in Python you can do in Coding Lab, and vice versa,” he told Digital Trends. “Kids as young as six have been able to [use it]. We’ve made it really simple.”

Code Lab’s language is designed on Scratch, the sprite-based language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Kids use four different categories of blocks, including movements (like forward and backward turns), actions (like changing lights and saying short phrases), events (like reacting to a smile or frown), and animations (like a sneeze) to program Cozmo. A series of tutorial-like challenges teach the tool’s fundamentals, and a second, substantially more advanced mode launching later this year will add support for math functions and other features.

best stem coding toys anki cozmo 002

In a demo ahead of Code Lab’s launch on Monday, Tappeiner walked Digital Trends through the interface’s basics. It’s largely a drag-and-drop affair. A persistent, expandable menu houses programming blocks depicting Cozmo’s capabilities with colorful iconography. Publishing a program is easy as pairing together at least two blocks and tapping a green “play” icon — a “move forward” and a “move right” command triggers Cozmo to inch forward and rightward, for example.

Special categories of blocks allow for slightly more complicated routines, like a facial recognition program that has Cozmo roam around a plastic cube when it recognizes a cube. But Sofman thinks Code Lab’s real appeal is in its simplicity.

“We now have a powerful tool that gives anyone interested in learning to code a robot the opportunity to unleash their creativity,” he said. “There’s simply no consumer robotics platform available like Cozmo.”

Code Lab is available as a free upgrade for existing Cozmo owners, and launches this week on iOS and Android.

Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.

Amazon drops prices on Roomba robot vacuums by up to $150

Amazon is offering discounts on iRobot Roombas and other robot vacuums to help you get a leg-up on those chores. We've rounded up the best deals available now and put them all in one place.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Google plots radar-sensing tech that could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.