Not every company can be a success, but most of them don’t suck up $200 million of venture capital before folding like Anki just did. According to CEO Boris Sofman the company’s 200 staff will be out of work on Wednesday this week, but the company has enough left in the coffers to provide a week of severance pay. The fate of the company’s various consumer robotics products is unclear.
The mobile-oriented robotics company first attracted attention when it unveiled its technology on stage at a 2013 Apple event. The company’s Anki Drive system featured small AI-powered cars that raced around a mat with embedded lanes that the cars could track in real-time. Players connected to a vehicle over Bluetooth to activate its special abilities and weapons to beat the other players. That demo didn’t go perfectly, foreshadowing continued struggles for the company.
Anki eventually released a newer version of Anki Drive called Overdrive, but the expected business of selling extra AI cars didn’t materialize. It turned to smaller standalone devices like the Cozmo and Vector robots. These devices used features like facial recognition and laser scanners to make them into little robotic companions. However, this may have helped reinforce the view that Anki was more a maker of toys than a technology startup. This reportedly made investors skittish.
Anki said last year that it had reached almost $100 million in revenue for 2017, and it expected to make even more in 2018. However, it would seem the company didn’t have enough positive cash flow to keep the lights on. The company says a financial deal to deliver long-term funding fell through at the last minute, leading to the shutdown. The news inside the company was that Microsoft, Amazon, and others were sniffing around for a potential acquisition. Although, now they can probably acquire the AI tech behind Anki’s products for a pittance.
All the company’s products relied on mobile apps for programming and control. No one knows what will become of those, but they’re still available for download as of this writing. The robots connect over Bluetooth, so local features should still work. However, the best case scenario is that the apps will slowly lose functionality as Android and iOS features and APIs change until the Anki robots stop working entirely.