Vector by Anki: Another Kickstarter RobotBy - 08/16/2018
Pre-order robots often promise more than they deliver. Like Kuri and Maya, just two of the many robots that ultimately never made it into homes. And then there are the fleet of products that have managed to ship, but underdeliver, like Moorebot, a robot that currently holds a 2.5-star rating on Amazon.
With Vector’s success on Kickstarter, I can’t help but ask the question, Who is ANKI and can we trust them to deliver on their promises?
Who is Anki and Can You Trust Them?
ANKI has three factors that work in their favor in their effort to garner trust.
First, in their Kickstarter video, they lean heavily on the fact that they are not new to product development nor are they new to the robotics industry. Thus far, they’ve managed to deliver three products that fall into the robotic toy category including a device called COZMO, a robot aimed at teaching kids to code, and two intelligent racing games.
Second, ANKI is a company based out of San Francisco, which sets them apart from Chinese robotics companies as it gives them an edge when understanding and delivering to the U.S. market but also allows them to provide a better support experience.
Finally, ANKI has already made progress on Vector. According to their Kickstarter page,
Anki has designed, developed, and begun manufacturing Vector, and we’re committed to bringing him to retail in 2018.
That said, backing a Kickstarter always comes with risks. Risks that a product won’t deliver and risk that it will underdeliver.
What is Vector?
In short, Vector is a personal robot. He stands just 3″ tall and is tiny enough that you might decide to let him roam around your desk. Backers who are familiar with ANKI’s COZMO robot say that Vector looks just like his predecessor, but there are a few things that make him unique.
First, his price point. It’s not unusual to see personal robots selling in the $700-$1500 range, but a single pledge of $199 will help you snag one Vector. Eventually, he will sell for $249.00.
Vector also has many Alexa-like abilities. You can activate his ability to listen by speaking the command phrase, “Hey Vector.” Like Alexa, he is always listening. Unlike Alexa, you can’t mute the microphone. If you are in the mood for a little privacy, you must turn the robot off.
If he’s on, he can answer questions like, “When is the next full moon,” and, “Who won the World Cup?” He can also help with cooking by converting measurements or keeping a timer. He can even keep tabs on the weather or play games to keep you entertained. Again, all things Alexa can do.
Is Vector Just Another Alexa?
According to an article found on The Verge, Vector is NOT an Alexa competitor. Instead, he’s meant to be something different. He’s a companion, a friend, and there are certainly things that set Vector apart from Alexa.
First, he has a personality. When you ask Alexa a question, the ring on your Echo device will flash, or the device might make a sound to acknowledge that it heard you. Vector, on the other hand, will turn toward you. He has expressive eyes and will respond when you pay him attention. He will also respond if you pet him, perhaps making him an ideal and low maintenance pet.
Second, Vector’s makers have endowed him with a touch of curiosity. He will roam around on his own exploring his surroundings and different objects, and when his batteries start to run low, he will find his way back to his charger. This is all possible thanks to several built-in sensors including a gyroscope, time-of-flight laser sensor, HD camera, audio sensors, capacitive touch sensor, edge-detection, and even localization and mapping (SLAM) capabilities.
Finally, the built-in HD camera adds new abilities. Right now, the abilities are limited to reactive features like identifying people, seeing and remembering faces, and navigation. At this time, the camera cannot be used as a security camera, though that might be coming down the road.
For some, part of Vector’s appeal might be in his future promise. ANKI has shared a list of future possibilities including calendar integrations, the ability to read the news, smart home control, security camera features, notifications, and more, which means that these are all tasks the little robot is currently not capable of executing. If you want to speed up the process, there are two ways you can help.
First, all Kickstarter backers will gain early access to the Vector Software Development Kit (SDK) allowing them to tinker and grow Vector’s abilities. Second, pledgers will also gain access to the Vector Insiders Club, allowing them to provide feedback on future features and development.
I know that Vector is meant to be a step away from the toy market for ANKI, but right now he still feels a bit toy-like. He’s definitely not the home security robot we’ve been searching for, and probably isn’t the personal robot you’ve been longing for. His features are more limited than Alexa, and he can’t access any other Voice A.I.s besides his own.
While Vector is already a Kickstarter success with over a million dollars in funding achieved, I’m still not buying the story. I think the likelihood that ANKI will deliver on time is high, but the robot’s lackluster features make this project feel more like one is paying to Beta test a product that’s not yet consumer ready.
Other things you might want to know about Vector:
- He’s WiFi Dependent
- You Cannot Combine Multiple Vectors
- App Access is Required for Setup
- Nonrefundable Purchase
Should you choose to back Vector, what you’ll probably wind up with is a product that has a few features, but lacks the intelligence delivered by Amazon Alexa or even Google Home with the major benefits being that Vector is mobile and has a little spunk.
You can learn more about Vector at anki.com.
Photo Credit: Anki