The graveyard of failed consumer robot companies gained a new addition on Monday with the news that Anki, which once caught the eye of the experts at Apple, had joined the list of failures.
San Francisco-based Anki had picked an unconventional route towards building full-service robots for the home, channelling its artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies into small toys as it waited for the technology to advance far enough to match its long-term vision.
It claimed sales from its toys, which included racing cars and a small bulldozer with a winning personality, reached nearly $100m in 2017.
But while revenue in the triple-digit millions is often seen as a mark of success for a young tech start-up, it was not enough to save a company with fortunes tied to the vicissitudes of the toy market.
In a statement, Anki said it was laying off all its workers by Wednesday, after a deal with a potential strategic investor fell through. Despite raising $200m in its nine-year life, it said it would have needed “significant funding” to match its “long-term product roadmap”.
Anki attracted prominent support in the tech world, with venture capital backers including Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz and Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, as well as from JPMorgan Chase. Its first product, a racing car game in which the vehicles use sensors to stay on the track, was featured prominently at an Apple developer event, giving it instant credibility in Silicon Valley.
But the company ran into some of the same problems faced by other consumer hardware companies such as Jawbone and GoPro, which have also struggled with the challenges of managing international supply chains and generating high enough margins. Toy companies face an extra burden, ploughing all their effort into products that must sell heavily in a very short period each year.
Other consumer robots that have fallen by the wayside over the past year include Jibo, a “social robot” that was the brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology robotics expert Cynthia Breazeal, and Kuri, made by a division of Bosch. Despite big advances in AI and other areas, the technology has yet to reach the level needed for easy to use and practical home robots.