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Anki Vector review
Posted on 21-Mar-2019 19:57 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

Anki Vector review

The Anki Vector is a little companion robot that can entertain you and give you a glimpse into the world of robotics. An evolution of Anki's previous robot, it is powered by a Qualcomm APQ8009 System-on-Chip (SoC) with four ARM Cortex A7 CPUs (running up to 1.3 GHz), an Adreno 304 GPU, and a Hexagon 536 Digital Signal Processor (DSP).


Because of this processing power - similar to what is behind some modern smartphones - the Vector can rely on its own Internet connection via WiFi, so it doesn't need a mobile app to perform its actions anymore. This gives the Vector some independence - and it uses it by doing its own things when left alone.


Sure, the Vector won't go around your house cleaning the floors - after all it is only a small robot, about three inches tall - but it will explore the world by rolling around the area, changing directions now and then or when bumping into things, creating a virtual map (it can memorise some objects and locations for a little while), even turning when it hears a loud noise. Its small screen will show its eyes and change expressions depending on what is happening and its "mood" - is it curious about something? Does it recognise a face? If yes, it will even say your name, if you have introduced yourself before using the command "Hey Vector, my name is..." while looking at its camera.


Vector pays attention when you say the trigger words "Hey Vector" followed by a command. Vector then shows a series of blue LEDs, "blinks" a couple of times and turns around to look at you. You can then continue with the command and Vector will execute what you asked of it. Some commands are interpreted locally by its tiny brain and actioned instantly ("turn around", "what time is it?"). Sometimes more information is retrieved ("what is the weather?"). The "I have a question" command seems to then connect it to its "cloud library" for a more extensive answer - you can try saying "Hey Vector" followed by "I have a question" and when prompt go ahead asking "Tell me about New Zealand" or "Who is the president of the United States?" to hear its answers - the one about New Zealand is quite complete and seems to have more content as the time passes.


You can also ask Vector to take photos and later on use the mobile app to download images from its memory.


The little robot uses clicks and chirps to let you know it is alive and going around. It uses a synthesised voice to answer questions that need more than those chirps.


Most of times it will be just happy to go around, sometimes avoiding obstacles, sometimes stopping just before falling off the table, thanks to its sensors. You can pat it (more sensors, this time on upper side of its body) and will purr to show it is happy with the attention. You can even say "Hey Vector" followed by "Good robot" to see it spin a couple of times or shake its arms up and down.


Four microphones on its body allow it to hear sounds coming from all sides, and even determine where the sound comes from. That is how it knows where to go when you say "Hey Vector" followed by "Come here". The microphones work well within a limited range though - don't expect it to be like the Amazon Echo, which can hear you from the other side of the room. Vector can hear best when you are at max two or three metres away. Speech recognition seems to work really well, and even understands my mix of South American/Kiwi accent quite well.


Vector will detect low battery and when possible return to its docking station to recharge - this works well if it is on a small space (such as a table) but if you let it lose on the floor you may see Vector powered down quite a few metres away from its charging station - perhaps because of the distance traveled or obstacles it could not find its station, which is recognisable thanks to special visual markings.


The robot also knows when someone grabs it - take it from the floor or desk and it will start making noises and shaking while on your hand - and there's even a hidden easter egg here: grab Vector and shake it a couple of times to see a snowglobe scene on its screen, with fake snow and all...


Anki offers a full SDK that allows you to program Vector via Python scripts and a well defined API that allows you access to sensor, display, movements, camera stream, photos, microphones and voice.


The community is showing off some impressive scripts. An Android app allows notifications to be read aloud by Vector. Another project I saw look for objects then use cloud-based cognitive services to identify objects. One project integrates cloud monitoring of events added to a service database and Vector announcing a new case being added to the service queue. Others used IFTTT to trigget scripts. Creativity is the key here.


Vector is practically autonomous - you still need the mobile app for initial setup and any settings change. The app is well built, although I still fall for the non-working Android back button (you must use the left arrow in the app if you want to navigate back from one page to another). Using the app you can manage the WiFi connection in use, sound volume and manage updates.


A recent update brought Amazon's well known Alexa service to the Vector platform. At the time of my review this was only available to US-based users though so I can't comment on how well it works.


The Anki Vector is a great little robot. The most exciting side of it is the possibility to bring to life something that is usually confined to the virtual space. But it is also a funny little fellow - and I even saw our dog "interacting" with Vector one day - Vector bumped into its paw, the dog barked, Vector made some noises and moved its arms, the dog got even more excited, barked again, Vector responded again... All very entertaining.


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