June 28, 2016      
Anki founders L-R: Mark Palatucci, Boris Sofman and Hanns Tappeiner

The three amigos score again

If it’s got kid appeal, has anything to do with AI, and it can get to market quickly, then there’s investment aplenty knocking at your door.

Such is the envious tale from the founders of robotic startup Anki Inc., which just pulled in a JP Morgan-led investment of $52.5 million. Venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Index Ventures and hedge fund Two Sigma also ponied up part of the investment. Anki’s coffers have now been twice lined with JP Morgan-led financing; in 2014, the San Francisco-based robot developer received $55 million.

Anki founders, Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner (all are Carnegie Mellon grads) scored their first hit in 2013 with Drive (and now Overdrive), their lineup of robotic racecars and related mobile app and racetracks. The racecars attracted the attention of heavy hitters CEO Tim Cook of Apple, and Disney’s president Michael Ovitz, who soon became an advisor to the startup.

This week, the trio unveiled their newest creation Cozmo, a diminutive mobile robot “looks like a mini truck outfitted with a tank tread and forklift. A small screen displays two animated blue eyes that move around and change shape depending on the robot’s reactions.” The personality of the new “toybot” is probably best described as “a cross between R2-D2 of “Star Wars” fame and “Wall-E” from Pixar’s animated film.”

In fact, according to Fortune, “professional animator Carlos Baena, who worked on movies like “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E,” lead Anki’s team of animators and designers (some of whom worked at animation studios like Pixar and DreamWorks).

“When you look at robots in movies – whether that’s R2-D2 or Johnny 5 from Short Circuit or Wall-E – they all have a very well-defined personality,” says Hanns Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president. “The idea for Cozmo is to create a real-life robotic character the way you would normally only see in movies.”

How Cozmo works

Fortune reports: “Owners connect Cozmo to a mobile app through Wi-Fi, and the app acts as Cozmo’s brains, so to speak. Once turned on, Cozmo’s eyes light up and indicate that the little robot is scanning its surroundings.

“Using computer vision, a branch of artificial intelligence technologies used to help computers recognize objects, Cozmo can lock on and remember a person’s face so that it knows whom it wants to play games with.

“Instead of racing on a track, Cozmo is intended to play custom games with its owners. Anki created a series of games involving three cubes (each a bit smaller than Cozmo) in which each side blinks in different colors depending on the game.”

Sometimes to wait is beneficial. The Anki trio worked four years bringing Cozmo to market “during which time the popularity of smartphones helped to drive down the cost of many of the device’s components and processing power increased to support its AI systems.”

Pre-orders for the $179 Cozmo have begun; October is the scheduled time frame for the mini-bulldozers to ship.