Cozmo and Vector, two tiny and rather adorable robots, may look the same but they are very different.
Both robots weigh less than a pound and are small enough to fit in your hand. And they both possess some of the most advanced robotics capabilities in the world.
Digital Dream Labs, an ed-tech firm based at Nova Place on the North Side, acquired the pair of robots and other assets from a defunct Silicon Valley robotics company, Anki, which had $100 million in revenue in 2018 and was seeking a billion-dollar IPO that did not succeed.
Anki also has Pittsburgh roots. It was founded in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon University alumni Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci and Hanns Tappeiner.
Digital Dream Labs stepped in and brought Vector and Cozmo for an undisclosed sum and has big plans to bring them back to life. “We were the only company in the bidding process willing to take on the ongoing cost of maintaining the servers and preserving the entire platform,” says Jacob Hanchar, co-founder and CEO of Digital Dream Labs.
Both robots work off a smartphone app, but while Cozmo needs to be connected in order to work, Vector needs an initial set up and then can be let loose.
“Vector is truly autonomous,” Hanchar notes. “He’s your peer robot, who goes and does stuff by himself. You don’t have to control him with a controller, he just does his own thing.”
You could say that Cozmo is the older brother. “What makes him cute is that he has these expressive eyes, and you’re able to communicate with him through expression,” says Hanchar. “Both robots do that. Cozmo requires a constant connection to an app to get him to say things, and do things.”
One thing they share in common: Both robots can serve as helpful companions that can connect to humans like the family pet. “It’s not what they do, it’s who they are,” says Hanchar. “Both robots connect to consumers and go beyond functionality.”
He cites some examples. “There’s veterans who suffer from PTSD,” says Hanchar. “The elderly who need to be reminded to take their medications, or who feel lonely. Children who have learning disabilities or behavioral disabilities really connect with this robot. For many people, he is the portal to the outside world. Vector opens doors in ways that technology has not been able to do.”
Hanchar believes demand is high for the robots — 2 million Cozmos and 200,000 Vectors have already been sold — and he projects between $11 million to $50 million in revenue for his company this year.
Hanchar says he hasn’t decided on the pricing yet, but Cozmo previously sold for about $180 and Vector sold for $250.
Part of their plan is an open-source approach to make the robots available for any user’s program. That means anyone will be able to program the robots to do whatever they want.
“There are 200,000 Vector users who can contribute to his development. So we have a tiny robot army,” adds Hanchar, who also owns Klavon’s Ice Cream in the Strip District.
Since the robot acquisition, the company has expanded its staff to 13 and wants to hire 31 more in Pittsburgh, Hanchar says. The manufacturing end will remain in China.
Digital Dream Labs expects to have Cozmo returning to production by this summer and have Vector back into the marketplace by Christmas.