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It seems that lately toy robots are becoming more and more popular among young people, especially ones with which they can interact. Anki, for instance, recently introduced its programmable Cozmo robot that focuses on STEM education capabilities. This type of robot teaches children and teenagers how they can use Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to make the world around them more interesting.
Now, Anki is releasing a small, mobile, robot assistant referred to as Vector. This tiny robot doesn’t require programming. What it does is look incredibly adorable for a hunk of plastic as it moves around on your table, desk, or floor. This little robot does more than roll around though. It also functions as a voice assistant, offering functionality similar to that of your Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
The difference with the Vector is that is has a pair of eyes that can express different emotions, so you feel like you’re interacting with a physical presence. While the Vector is packed with potential, Anki also has serious plans for future capabilities. For now, however, the Vector is a small helper robot. It is without a doubt much cuter than your Google Home or Amazon Echo, but it is not nearly as useful as these smart devices.
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The Vector Robot is a sleek little device made of dark plastic. It measures in at 2.8 x 2.4 x 1.8 inches (HWD). Vector has a round head that pivots, tank treads, and is dark gray with brass accent colors.
A glossy black head covers an OLED screen which serves at the Vector’s face. You’ll notice large, expressive eyes which might remind you of Eve from the movie Wall-E.
These eyes will show emotion when asked questions or given instructions. There are forklift-type arms that protrude in front of the Vector, which it uses to pick up an included toy called the Vector Cube.
Aside from the eyes being OLED, Vector’s face houses an HD camera which lets it “see” its surrounding environment. The Vector’s camera pairs with four microphones it uses for hearing and an accelerometer and a pair of touch sensors it uses to feel its way around as it navigates.
One cool feature that you’ll enjoy is the Vector’s ability to speak. On tops of its head is a built-in speaker that has a text-to-speech engine which gives it the ability to talk.
Your Vector robot comes with a base station on which it can charge. There are two contacts which align with the bottom of the Vector, situated between the tank treads. When its battery gets low, the Vector will automatically return to its base station. Or, you can tell it to go home and it will respond by heading back and charging up until it receives further instructions.
The included base station does come with a USB cable, however, no adapter is provided. That means you either need to find your own adapter to charge the Vector or plug it into a USB port. Still, it is strange that one isn’t included with the robot.
Getting the Vector set up is straightforward and simple, however, it does require the use of a tablet or smartphone. You’ll need to download the Vector application from either iOS or Android. While you’re doing that, make sure the device is seated in its base station and charging up.
Once the app has installed, simply follow the instructions to create an account. Turn on your Vector, then pair it with your smartphone via Bluetooth. Connect the device to your wifi network and let the device check for any necessary updates.
When the device is set up and ready to go, you’ll see it look at you with its big robot eyes. It will attempt to meet you, but you can get its attention by saying “Hello, Vector.” Similar to the Google Assistant, you have to pause for a moment before giving the Vector any commands. You’ll know it’s listening by the blue glow and lights on its back. You should also hear a small chime.
You can start by instructing Vector to come to you by saying “Hello, Vector. Come here.” The robot will move forward and come toward you. When it finds you and looks at you, tell the robot, “Hello, Vector. My name is (your name).” Vector will learn your name while recording your face so it knows who you are.
From then on, anytime the Vector wakes up and sees you, it will chime, and greet you with your name.
Interaction and Usability
Even though the Vector is small and compact like many other robots on the market today, you interact with it in an entirely different method. Where other robots require you to program them to do tricks through or perform set functions through the app, Vector is designed to respond to your voice.
Aside from setup, the only things you’ll find useful in the Vector smartphone app are settings changes or more info about the device. The Vector uses direct interaction with humans instead of pre-defined programming or app control.
The Vector responds primarily via voice commands, however, it can also recognize you through facial recognition. When it does, it will say your name. This robot will also respond if you pet it, thanks to its built-in touch sensors.
If you or your child do want to have the Vector behave like a toy robot, you can tell it to navigate its surrounding environment or do some tricks. The robot will also play with the Vector Cube included with it. It will flip it around using its forklift, causing it to light up with colors.
The Vector will come to you if you call it, and if you call it a good robot, it will happily chime in response. Additionally, you can request a fist bump from the robot and it will respond by raising its arms and giving you a tap.
Oddly enough, the Vector is an endearing little robot. Its OLED eyes move around and make expressions filled with friendliness or curiosity. These expressions, along with a synthesized voice make the Vector a fun and approachable robot with which you can interact.
The robot’s treads, arm, and head all move in emotional gestures that give the Vector the appearance of liveliness. These features combined make the robot seem less like a gadget and more like a pet. For instance, if the robot is happy, it will perform a little dance, and if it suddenly discovers that it is too close to a ledge, it will move backward in an act of caution.
While the Vector is an adorable little gadget, it’s not as smart as you might hope it would be. It has trouble moving around areas where obstacles are placed and sometimes becomes stumped on how to move around or over cables or large bumps in its road.
It might not be the best robot for exploring its surrounding area, it is pretty cool that it can recognize several different users and recite their names upon seeing them. Users will feel a sense of connection with the Vector as it wakes up, sees them, and says hello to them by name.
Of course, the Vector does more than just roll around. It’s also a voice assistant. That means you can treat your little robot in much the same way you would a Google Home Mini or Echo Dot. At the very least, you can speak to it as if it was one of your smart assistants that comes with an expressive face and some wheels.
The robot has a selection of functions that you may find useful. For instance, it can provide you with the weather report, play games with you, take pictures with its camera, and set a timer. Additionally, the Vector does have a knowledge engine will allow you to ask it general questions. For instance, you can ask the robot to tell you the latest sports scores, convert units of measurement or some general-knowledge trivia.
The drawback here is that the device behaves as though its still in the early stages of development. There are awkward silences as the robot processes your question which will remind you of the early iterations of your voice assistant. Additionally, the microphones need some improvement as they pick up a lot of ambient sounds, even if you’re only a few feet away from the device.
There are also times when it doesn’t listen to your commands if you don’t pause long enough after saying, “Hello, Vector.” You have to ensure that the blue lights on its back are on to know that it’s listening, which often makes it feel slow and stilted.
It’s still a useful little gadget, you just have to remember that it does have some limitations. It’s a nifty timer and can give you sports scores or weather reports very easily. Two things you might use your smart assistant for on a regular basis.
The challenge here is that if you want to ask Vector a question, you have to take an additional step. Where you would say, “Hey, Google,” and then ask your question, with Vector you have to say, “Hello, Vector,” wait a moment, then say, “Question.”
You’ll notice its facial expressions will change as it processes your question through the knowledge engine. From that point, you can treat the Vector just like you would your Google Home or Amazon Echo. Ask your question and wait for your answer.
Photos taken with the Vector robot can be viewed through the smartphone application It’s located under utilities, and you can navigate through the photo library. If you want to store them on your phone, the app gives you the ability to do so. Unfortunately, the camera isn’t too high-quality at this point. They are captured at 1280 x 720, which means they have the appearance of a photo taken by a feature phone.
Even though the Vector isn’t the most useful or smartest assistant on the market, Anki has made great strides in making it more functional. The manufacturer offers free updates to the device and recently added Amazon Alexa integration to it. Integration with Amazon gives the Vector smart home controls, so you can tell it to change the thermostat temperature or turn off the lights in the kitchen.
The company also has plenty in the works for the Vector. It expects to offer additional features like 360-degree photos, calendars, messaging, and security camera capabilities in the near future. Even though they’re not available yet, it does make the little gadget a little more appealing and useful.
Here are some of the specifications for the Anki Vector robot:
- Wifi support – 802.11n
- Quad-core Snapdragon processor
- 720p camera quality
- 4-microphone array
- Bluetooth functionality
- Capacitive sensors
- Edge sensors
Pros and Cons
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the pros and cons for the Vector robot.
- Friendly and adorable
- Voice assistant functionality
- Alexa integration
- Potential for additional features
- Awkward voice command experience
- No timeline on expected updates
Plenty of Potential
The Anki Vector is an adorable little robot that is packed with potential. Even though it’s currently only a simple voice assistant, it feels like it should be a little further along than it is. When using the Vector, you can’t help but notice that it’s a few steps behind smart assistants like Google Home or Amazon Alexa.
Of course, the Google and Amazo devices are stationary speakers. They won’t roll around your table or desk, give you a fist bump, or recognize and greet you by name.
While the Vector does not have the STEM capabilities that it’s brother, the Cozmo, does, it is still a fun little gadget that is a joy to use. It’s tough to justify the robot’s high price tag, but with more features promised by Anki, it does make it a little easier to swallow.
For now, the Vector robot is a unique and cool gadget with some fun features. It’s more a novelty and toy than a useful device and isn’t quite functional or economical enough to replace the current smart speakers available on the market.
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