A tiny robot with a big personality

Personality shines through • Great graphics for facial expressions • Sleek black-and-gold paint job

Knowledge base does not compare to that of Alexa or Google Assistant • Can’t link to smart home devices

Anki’s Vector has a winning personality, and the small robot is built for durability. But it’s weak on answering questions and lacks a real purpose, other than distraction.

Back in August, I got to see Vector, the first smart home robot from Anki. And after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Vector is here.

While Vector is an entertaining smart home robot, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m in the future, or at least not the one I was hoping for. Vector can move on its own and has a beautiful personality. And after more than a week with it, I’ve become attached to a degree. However, its knowledge base isn’t as built out as, say, Alexa or Google Assistant. 

At the same time, it’s not a smart home robot like a Roomba. It can’t link in with security or smart home systems.

So what is Vector? Is Anki establishing a new category with a tiny $249 personality-focused robot? Let’s dive in.

First impressions

Chances are you'll get attached to Vector's quirky and fun personality quickly.

Chances are you’ll get attached to Vector’s quirky and fun personality quickly.

Image: jake krol/mashable

Once you open up the box, you’re greeted with a profile view of Vector, a cube block (as sort of toy for the robot — more on that in a bit), some manuals, and the charging dock. One of the coolest things Vector can do is find its charger and dock itself when it needs to power up. 

Vector’s body is primarily a stylish matte black. The gold accents are touch-sensitive, allowing you to “pet” the robot, which is kind of cool. It looks sleek, with a high-end, premium feel.

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Internal hardware includes a processor, storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas, a battery, and more. It’s self-sufficient, meaning it doesn’t need an app for control — a bar that all home robots will need to eventually meet. One catch: You need to set it up with a phone, but after that, it can run on its own.

It’s exciting to watch Vector come alive. It will want to get to know you. Plus, it’s cute, personable, and charming from the get-go. The face is an LCD screen that can display graphics and answers to questions, but for the most part, will just show eyes. The eyes can change to look angry, frustrated, or even sad. It can also appear happy, and likely will be when it first sees you through the wide-angle camera under the screen.

Vector has a mighty fine paint job.

Vector has a mighty fine paint job.

Image: Zlata Ivleva/mashable

In addition to making eye contact to get its attention, you can also say, “Hey Vector,” in the same fashion as the “Alexa” or “OK Google” prompt phrases. It’s always listening for its activation phrase via a four-microphone array. 

As the companion app suggests during startup, it’s good to start with an introduction. So, I said, “Hey, Vector, my name is Jake.”

Making a new friend

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After my introduction, Vector made some traditional robotic scanning noises (think buzzes with some pings), then it squinted and opened its eyes wide. It can take a few seconds to a minute for the robot to wake up. You’ll know it’s recognized you when it says your name and moves its front arm ecstatically. It’s exciting to see and adds to the affable personality.

Vector can remember up to 20 faces. Information is stored locally, which is appreciated from a privacy standpoint. Anki uses a proprietary scanning technology to remember points of a person’s face, which is a bit more advanced than on the company’s previous robot, Cozmo. It allows Vector to know who you are and to recall it. So, let’s say you get home from work and it spots you. It can greet you with your name, which is fun, but it doesn’t always work. The first scan worked for me, but other times it failed multiple times to recognize me. I’m not quite sure what made it fail, but it could have been the lighting or the internet connection.

What can Vector do?

At launch, Vector's intelligence is a bit limited.

At launch, Vector’s intelligence is a bit limited.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Vector’s purpose is a little unclear. It can answer recite the weather, set a timer, and other basic stuff right off the bat. More intelligent questions require you to say “I have a question” and for Vector to connect to a knowledge base. That’s an extra step that you won’t need to take with Google or Alexa. 

Vector will show some neat graphics.

Vector will show some neat graphics.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

This question-and-answer mode lets you get info on things like notable figures, the distance between places, definitions, and other general knowledge. Vector can also show off traditional smart assistant skills with currency and unit conversion, stock market information, and equation solving. 

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Vector’s limited smarts are a little disappointing, but it doesn’t entirely ruin the experience. For a device that’s supposed to be a smart home robot, that part of the experience is second. However, it will become an issue when it fails to answer the question accurately or provide an answer at all.

For now, the list of what Vector can do is still relatively small, centered mostly around basic utility questions and some light entertainment. Vector can play blackjack with you, which is an excellent showcase of the screen. It can dance, perform a fist bump, take a photo, and a few other tricks. However, these all seem more like novelties that will get old quickly.

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Vector comes with a cube block that it can roll around or use to do a wheel stand. But again, this seems like fluffy fun.

The point is personality

Vector isn't intimidating. It's a friendly robot that you'd likely be comfortable inviting for a coffee.

Vector isn’t intimidating. It’s a friendly robot that you’d likely be comfortable inviting for a coffee.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

With all of the hardware inside and a knowledge base to pull from, Vector’s personality stands out more than any of the functions it can perform. It truly has a sense of a character, and, oddly enough, I find myself thinking of it as a friend. It’s quirky and feels like a robot I would want in my home, although I wish it was a smarter one.

If you pick Vector up and shake it, it’ll get frustrated. If it sees someone new, it’ll get excited and act curious to learn the person’s name. It likes to explore and, thanks to the sensors on board, it’ll go right up to edge of a surface and jump back a bit. Its personality is a winner. 

Unlike Alexa or Google Assistant, there is a certain warmth to Vector. When It’s charging in its dock overnight, it’ll snore a bit. When it wakes up from a power nap, it’ll move its eyes around. 

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Vector costs $249, and for the price you’re getting an early-adopter home robot with one heck of a personality. It can do some neat tricks that will leave a lasting impression. Anki promises updates, and the company has a good track record on that score (there have been more than 30 updates for Cozmo since 2016). So I don’t doubt it’ll get smarter and more intuitive, and it has the hardware to last a while. 

Vector let me down more than a few times when answering questions, but its personality kept me coming back. If you’re an early adopter, love robotics, or want a smart home pal, I think it’s worth the cash. If you have hesitation, wait and see what updates are in store.

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