UPDATE 05/03: We received today a short note from the company about what might happen to their cloud infrastructure, which keeps their robots running: “This is definitely something we care a lot about. We’re working right now on a plan to keep the products operational into the future.” We’ll post more details as soon as we get them.
Barely an hour ago, Recode broke the news that Anki, the consumer robotics company behind both Vector, Cozmo, and Overdrive, will be terminating several hundred employees and shutting down on Wednesday after it failed to secure a new round of financing at the end of last week.
This is a significant blow to the consumer robotics industry: Anki, which came out of stealth during Apple’s WWDC in 2013, had nearly US $100 million in revenue in 2017, and they seemed to have found a sweet spot with relatively sophisticated robotic toys that were still at least somewhat affordable. Despite having sold more than 1.5 million robots (hundreds of thousands of which were Cozmos) as of late last year, it wasn’t enough “to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap,” Anki said in a statement sent to press today.
While the details of what happened at Anki are still developing, the company told Recode that “a significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement.” This is despite additional reports that a variety of companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Comcast, were all potentially interested in acquiring Anki. Anki itself does still have a significant amount of value in the sense that they’ve developed a bunch of clever robotic technologies, but without an acquisition that would keep the Anki team intact, we’re not optimistic that whatever was that long-term product roadmap that Anki’s statement today mentioned likely doesn’t have much of a future at this point.
Until today, we’d been feeling like Anki was a robotics company that we could point to and say, “Look, they’re building consumer robot hardware that has a lot of cool tech in it, and some engaging personality, and it’s affordable, and people are buying lots of them.” After Jibo and Kuri, Anki was a reason for hope, I guess. We’d really like to know what went wrong—why couldn’t a company like this succeed, and what does that mean for robotics in general? How can a consumer robotics company be successful (beyond drones and vacuums) if Anki couldn’t make it work after what looked like five years of success ended so abruptly?
It’s entirely possible that everyone at Anki is just as confused about this as we are. Robots are hard. Home robots are harder. But I’m honestly not sure how to combine value and cost as well as Anki did with Cozmo or Vector. The company was able to make some uniquely compelling little robots, and we’re going to miss them.
We’ve reached out to Anki for comment, especially about what will happen to the cloud servers that keep the robots working, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.