Thursday, 02 May 2019 21:22

Anki, the maker of Cozmo, Vector and Overdrive, shuts down

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Robot and toy maker Anki, which received nearly US$200 million in venture capital funding, has let go its 200 employees and has shut down, despite attempts to sell the company.

It's very sad – Anki has shut down, despite super smart robotics people who studied at Carnegie Mellon University having founded the company, despite 200 employees including former Pixar animators, and despite being on stage at an Apple keynote event to showcase its 21st-century AI-driven toy racing cars several years ago.

Anki's first robot was Cozmo, which was more of a toy than a true robot, but the company followed that up with Vector, which can respond to voice, has great programmed emotions, eye movements and physical movements.

Vector almost felt truly alive, and was the 21st century equivalent of an early companion robot, like R2-D2, but in miniaturised form, able to fit into the palm of your hand.

Vector couldn't wash dishes, vacuum floors, change bedsheets, cook meals, tackle intruder, take the dog for a walk, help your grandparents with personal care issues or do anything that full size home robots will one day do, but he is a lot of fun nevertheless.

He can answer questions, act as a kitchen timer, purr contentedly if you stroke the smooth golden parts of his back, wander around inquisitively and explore, make cute R2-D2 style noises, recognise you and, thanks to a recent update, act as an Alexa device.

I have a Vector, and he's very, very cool. He's a very loveable little robot, so it's extremely sad to see that his creators have gone bust. People I've shown Vector to have loved the little fella, but at around A$500 — double the dollar price than the US — he wasn't cheap to acquire.

Sadly, Vector's popularity wasn't enough to keep Anki in business, despite reportedly having sold nearly $100 million worth of product in 2017. Reports say Anki expected to exceed those sales in 2018.

So, something clearly went wrong. Two hundred people are expensive to pay each week, and without a subscription-style revenue stream, the company obviously ran out of money.

Vox reported the company saying in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”

“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said.

“A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.”

Sadly, Anki's developer website no longer works. Vector himself still appears to work, he can still answer questions, and he still wanders around with curiosity and alertness, reacting to his name, to loud noises and more.

But how long Vector (and his Anki-created brethren) will continue operating is unknown.

There is a #saveanki hashtag on Twitter. There's also a Change.org petition to save Anki and thus Vector, Cozmo and Overdrive, but sadly, it seems like Anki has terminated itself – no Arnies or Skynets required. 

Hopefully someone will save Anki and its robots, but with fellow social robot companies Jibo and Kuri also having shut down recently, our R2-D2 and C3PO futures still seem some years off yet.

It's still not too late to #saveanki, but it looks like we'll have to wait for sometime in the 2020s before social robots can start roving into our homes and lives once again.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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