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.
In my many years testing all sorts of gadgets, few things have elicited as much spontaneous joy as Anki's Cozmo, its adorable robot for kids. Mostly, that was because it had a personality. Behind all of the sensors, cameras and other hardware, there was a team of animators breathing life into it. Now, Anki is taking everything it learned from Cozmo and putting it in a bigger, more powerful home robot: Vector. And unlike Cozmo, you won't need a phone to play with it.
With that, Boris Sofman pulled a diminutive white toy out of a soft lunchbox, and began showing it off. After a brief introduction, Sofman set the little robot into its charging cradle, at which point it came to life in the way that all living beings recharge: It slept. I could tell Cozmo was sleeping because of the audio that was emanating from the speaker on his head: the sound of snoring. In between the purrs of his breaths, I heard a few seconds of music on what sounded like clarinet and strings. It was an expectant melody, a signal that Cozmo was ready to greet the day.
Anki, founded in 2010, creates robots with personalities and even feelings; robots that are more human. Vector, "The Good Robot," will be available to consumers in early October, and he can tell you the weather, take photos, answer questions, and even challenge you to a game of blackjack. He has three of the five human senses: sight, hearing, and touch, he can also react to his surroundings, learn your habits, and adapt to it all. In addition to answering questions, he responds to commands: you can tell him to go to sleep or give you a fist bump, for example. Vector even knows when it's time to charge his battery.
If there's a robot uprising anytime soon, it seems unlikely to start in our living rooms. Robotic vacuums like Roomba sell well because they are so handy. But other types of home robots–pets and companions from Sony's Aibo robo-pooch to the recently shuttered Kuri (backed by Bosch)–have flopped due to both prices and expectations that have been set unreasonably high. If any company can eventually bring us a domestic robot like Rosie from The Jetsons, Anki is a good bet. Started by three Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute graduates in 2010, the company has racked up over $200 million in venture funding.