Cozmo – a good present?

Cozmo – image from Anki

One of the toys that’s been advertised heavily in the UK this year for Christmas has been Cozmo with it’s “Big Brain, Bigger Personality” strapline. I got one last year and it was a great present. Let’s get this out there. Cozmo is relatively expensive. For about Ā£1501 there are a lot of other things you might prefer to buy for a child (or an adult) for what is, on the surface “just a toy”. If you treat it as such then maybe it’s not the right thing for you, but viewing Cozmo as a simple toy is far less than he deserves. He is a lot of fun to play with, and the more you play with him, the more he begins to do.

I spent a lot of time over those holidays last year playing with Cosmo, and hearing him say “Jaaaaannnn-et” in his cutesy robotic voice (and appear happy) when he recognised my face. What took him from being a simple AI to something a bit more fun is when we had been playing the block tap game for a while and I started to win a lot more than he did. Cozmo then did something that I’ve not experienced since I beat my brother at a board game when I was very young – he threw his toys out of the pram: full angry face and kicking the blocks around. It was hilarious. He then wouldn’t play for a (short) while.

My daughter, who was 5 at the time, just wanted to get him to say her name and wasn’t really interested in playing with him herself, but did want to watch me playing. So there’s definitely a point to make sure that the person you buy this for is ready for it. I’d recommend 7 and above, just because you need to have independent play and the desire for the coding side to get good value from Cozmo.

It only took a day for me to unlock everything that was available at the time. My daughter and I played with him a fair bit over the holidays and then, because it wasn’t easy to leave him out (the cats kept stealing his blocks and trying to chew them2). He got put away. Sadly he’s been sat in his box for most of the year while I’ve tried to organise somewhere in the house for him to live where he doesn’t get forgotten. I see now that there are carry cases for him3, which would make it easier to keep him in sight at least. I’d strongly recommend these to prevent him getting damaged (unless you or the recipient are the sort of person who diligently puts things back in their original packaging after each play session…4)

As “just” an intelligent toy, he probably is overpriced, but for children who want to learn to code, the code lab makes it easy to teach Cozmo new things. This is where the value is. Cozmo will help your child learn simple coding and access the in built AI. This could be a great springboard for other things, and something to be encouraged. I haven’t really played with this aspect much – my day job is AI and coding, so it’s not something I think of doing for fun at home and my daughter isn’t yet interested.

There is also the disadvantage that you need a iphone or android device to connect to Cozmo, so unless your child has their own phone or tablet, expect to be heavily involved in the play.

My biggest concern would be that if you were buying this for a child then it would get a few hours of play and then be discarded, so be prepared to encourage little and often and then the coding skills when they’re ready.

That said, Cozmo is a lot of fun and seeing a little robot with personality is fantastic. I wish I had time to play with him more. Is there a bring your robot to work day?5. If you want other options then, for younger children, Robot Turtles is a great board game that teaches the principles of coding. For older children, there are plenty of Raspberry Pi kits that could get them started.

  1. Price at Argos if you’re last minute shopping!
  2. I have a history with cats and technology, my Greebo was constantly attacking the Aibo…
  3. Wish I’d known this over the past few days when I was being accused of being awkward to buy for!
  4. which I am!
  5. There should be, I might choose a day and start this šŸ™‚

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. Iā€™m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.