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 ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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