Anki, maker of adorable robot companions, is shutting down

Anki Cozmo
Image credit: Anki
(Image credit: Anki)

Anki, the San Francisco-based company behind smart, pocket-sized robots Vector and Cozmo, is shutting down this week.

According to Recode, almost 200 employees are being made redundant on Wednesday, and will receive just a week of severance pay.

Anki has attracted serious investment in the past, from big names including Index Ventures (which also backed Slack, Etsy, Skype and Just Eat in their early days) and Andreessen Horowitz (whose portfolio includes BuzzFeed, Facebook, Honor and Github).

Unfortunately, hardware is a notoriously expensive business and the company was left struggling after a more recent round of funding fell through. CEO Boris Sofman had previously told staff that companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Comcast were interested in acquiring Anki, but such a deal never materialized.

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

Powering down

It's a shame for a company that was so committed to the idea of robots as household companions. The most sophisticated of its devices, Vector, recently became compatible with Amazon Alexa, making it part pet and part free-roaming virtual assistant.

The company was keen to state that its products weren't toys, instead pitching them as AI-powered companions, and bringing experienced character designers on board to infuse them with personality.

"I feel like the future of home robotics needs to include character," Meghan McDowell, director of program management at Anki, told TechRadar in an interview earlier this year.

"We've seen with Vector, and even some of our previous products like Cozmo, that adding character to AI and robotics really is where the magic happens. It’s really important to the future of people accepting robots in their homes, to have people feel comfortable, and have a better, richer, deeper experience with their robot."

Sadly, it seems that household robots (at least for purposes other than housework) are still some way off becoming mainstream.