Anki Inc. CEO Boris Sofman holding a Vector robot in July 2018.Photo: Ted Shaffrey (AP)
According to Recode, CEO Boris Sofman told staff they would lose their jobs on Wednesday—and that nearly 200 employees would be given one week’s severance—after earlier informing them that a critical round of financing had fallen through. Recode wrote that the company said in a statement it had been left without the necessary funding to maintain its existing business or achieve future goals:
The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”
“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “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.”
Anki boasted strong sales numbers, and Engadget notes that it had raised $200 million in venture capital and recently added key features to Vector like Alexa integration. Sofman has also said its ambitions were never limited to entertainment or toys and that the company wanted to be a major player in robotics and artificial intelligence.
But it’s possible to overstate how much of a surprise this is—at the end of the day, Anki’s current lineup of robots essentially amounted to cute but expensive toys that replicated smart-home functions already done just as well by stationary smart speakers. Its other selling points, like helping kids learn how to code, doesn’t seem like the strongest argument for the viability of the business when other consumer robotics companies failed left and right in 2018. As Wired argues, the strongest commercial argument for robots is things like the Roomba that actually perform useful tasks.
In any case, the writing is on the wall for our poor little bulldozer-like friends, who may soon go quietly into that dark night. (Hey, maybe one day a Vector will still be rolling around collecting our cubes of post-apocalyptic trash.) In the meantime, according to Engadget, Anki management said it will continue to seek any financial options left available to continue their work.