Anki, the consumer robotics company behind the toyetic Cosmo, Vector, and the Anki Overdrive racing platform has announced that it is shutting down this week. Just a few years ago, the company was a much-buzzed-about startup, receiving cash infusions from the likes of JP Morgan as its toys made hot toy lists — including our own. Now, after burning through roughly $200 million in venture funding, Anki is done. First reported by Recode, Anki CEO Boris Sofman held an emotional meeting this morning in which he informed the staff that they would be terminated this week — a loss of more than 200 jobs.
Earlier this evening, the company issued the following statement:
“It is with a heavy heart to announce that Anki will be letting go of our employees, effective Wednesday. We’ve shipped millions of units of product and left customers happy all over the world while building some of the most incredible technologies pointed toward a future with diverse AI and robotics driven applications. But without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap, it is simply not feasible at this time. Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms. 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.”
The company reports that over 6.5 million of its devices are currently in use, and that more than 19 million mobile devices are connected using Anki apps. Very recently, last year’s Vector robot — another of the “cute” home products — received an update making it compatible with Amazon Alexa. And just last week the robot received an additional update to aid in low light usage conditions.
No matter how innovative or entertaining these advanced robotics really are (and they are much more than a toy), many watchers have long-questioned the real purpose and longevity of the category beyond being the type of novelty item that Sharper Image would’ve at one point peddled in the mall?
During the holiday season of 2017, the Anki Overdrive Fast and Furious Edition could be seen collecting dust at Toys “R” Us and Target locations across the country. It was a great set — but with a $169 list price, it was too expensive and too complex for much of its audience. In terms of playability, it married the idea of slot racing and radio control, allowing players to operate their vehicles by using a dedicated app on their smartphone or mobile device. With Anki shutting down, what will the future hold for those “more than 6.5 million Anki devices” currently in use? If the apps go dark, the customer will ultimately take the hit when faced with dead robots and “cars” that won’t start.
Anki certainly isn’t the first robotics company to hit a wall, and they won’t be the last.