Anki's Code Lab Brings Sophisticated Graphical Programming to Cozmo Robot

Anki's Cozmo robot will teach kids to code
Image: Anki
With an easy-to-use interface based on Scratch, you can now command Cozmo to do complex tasks without any programming experience.

When Anki introduced Cozmo almost exactly one year ago, we started off with a bit of skepticism, and a feeling that Anki was going slightly overboard with the kinds of promises that it was making for this cute and capable little robot. What was more exciting to us was when Anki followed up a few weeks later with Cozmo’s software development kit, or SDK, allowing access to a variety of very sophisticated features through relatively simple lines of code.

Instead of having to worry about the software necessary for navigation, object recognition, manipulation, and all of that complicated robotics programming, Cozmo already knows how to do it and gives you direct access to its capabilities, all on a robot that will cost you under US $200.

Today, Anki is announcing Code Lab, which takes that SDK and adds a graphical drag-and-drop interface that makes it incredibly simple to get Cozmo to do complex tasks involving vision, manipulation, and decision making, even if you have zero programming experience. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s affordable, and last week, we tried it out for ourselves, with a little help from Anki co-founder and president Hanns Tappeiner.

Cozmo has a great SDK that allows access to lots of high-level functionality. For example, a few simple commands can leverage Cozmo’s ability to localize and plan paths that avoid obstacles, manipulate blocks, and even recognize faces and emotions and respond with its own “emotions.” In order to use the SDK, though, you do have to know how to code. Like, you have to have some experience with (or be willing to learn) Python, and read the SDK documentation so that you understand how to get the robot to do what you want it to do. For most people who buy a Cozmo, this is a significant barrier to entry. More importantly, it’s also a barrier for parents or teachers who might want to help young kids learn to code with Cozmo.

To solve this and make the whole process easier and more accessible, Code Lab adds a graphical user interface, or GUI, on top of the SDK, based on MIT’s visual programming language Scratch. Colorful interactive blocks represent different functions, and by dragging and dropping those blocks (and making some minor edits to their parameters), you can get Cozmo to do all sorts of custom behaviors.

And once you’ve reached the limitations of the GUI, you can comfortably take the next step down into the underlying Python code. Anki also plans to release another layer (called “vertical grammar”) that will allow you to go the other direction, implementing custom Python code and more complex functionality into blocks in the GUI, which is a very cool idea.

Our initial criticism of Cozmo was based on wondering whether as a toy it would be able to hold our attention for more than 5 minutes. It now seems like as more than a toy, it won’t have any problems doing exactly that. Code Lab is available today to all Cozmo owners as a free software update to the Cozmo app.

[ Anki’s Code Lab ]

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