The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Consumer Robotics Company Anki Abruptly Shuts Down

After last-minute funding fell through, Anki becomes the latest consumer robotics company to close

2 min read
Anki's Vector robot
A gloomy day for Anki, maker of the Vector companion robot.
Photo: Anki

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.

[ Anki ] via [ Recode ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less