Editor’s Note: This article was updated on December 27, 2019 at 11 AM EST. The Robot Report spoke to Digital Dream Labs Founder H. Jacob Hanchar and added new information about relaunching Anki products and a potential subscription model and open-source Vector 2.0.
Anki’s robots might be making a comeback, after all. Digital Dream Labs, a Pittsburgh-based edtech startup, acquired all of Anki’s assets – patents, trademarks, data, social media, and domain.
Hilco Streambank handled the sale of Anki’s patent portfolio. It has hidden the Anki portfolio page from its website, but it remains active. According to Hilco, the patent portfolio sale includes the following assets:
- 45 issued utility patents, including 35 US patents
- 11 published patent applications
- 39 pending patent applications
- 3 utility patents in the National Phase (PCT)
- 73 issued design patents
- Trademarks for Anki, Cozmo, Vector, Anki Overdrive, and product lines in development
- Anki.com domain name
Digital Dream Labs was founded in February 2015 by H. Jacob Hanchar, who has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University. Anki was founded in 2010 by three Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute graduates – Mark Palatucci, Boris Sofman, and Hanns Tappeiner.
Relaunching Anki Cozmo, Overdrive, Vector
Digital Dream Labs is planning to revive and manufacture more units of each product in the following order: Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector. Hanchar told The Robot Report the goal is to have all three products available for purchase for Christmas 2020.
In the announcement about the acquisition, Hanchar wrote that “Cozmo was the major reason we were interested in Anki” and “we are going to launch that part of the platform first.” However, he told The Robot Report that “Overdrive might launch first simply because there was a lot of shelf space dedicated to Overdrive. In retail, it’s all about the real estate your brand is taking up. The margins are good enough and [Overdrive] is simpler than [Cozmo and Vector.]”
For the Anki customers who have emailed The Robot Report asking about the company’s future, still proceed cautiously. Digital Dream Labs only purchased the IP assets, which are not the physical assets and inventory. And we know how complicated Anki’s manufacturing process was. Hanchar said Digital Dream Labs is talking to former Anki employees and with manufacturers to get the manufacturing process up and running again.
Open-source Vector 2.0
Hanchar told The Robot Report Anki had patents that are still pending. “There is new tech, for sure,” he said. That includes a Vector 2.0, although Hanchar admits he hasn’t taken a close enough look at the build of Vector 2.0 to know what was being contemplated.
Hanchar said Digital Dream Labs is thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign in early 2020 to develop an open-source Vector 2.0.
Digital Dream Labs is contractually obligated to maintain Anki’s servers at AWS until Sept. 30, 2020. Some of Vector’s non-critical cloud functionalities have been turned off, but Hanchar said efforts are being made to turn those back on.
“Cozmo and Overdrive don’t necessarily need constant communication with the cloud,” he said. “They’re nothing like what Vector requires.”
Hanchar said on a unit-to-unit basis the profit margins are there for Anki’s products. He said Anki’s overhead is ultimately what did Anki in.
“They had a plan, were patenting things like crazy, and then it just falls off a cliff and ends one day,” he said. “They clearly thought they would still be in business right now up until the end. You don’t see anything in their balance sheet about attempting to turn things around or save money.”
One of the things that could help profitability is a tiered subscription plan. Hanchar said Digital Dream Labs could reduce the upfront cost of the robots and offer monthly subscription packages based on the level of functionality customers want.
“You get the basic services for Price X, get additional features for Price Y, and you get the full Vector services for Price Z,” he said. “I’ll run it like a business first and focus on profitability.”
‘Market presence’ main reason for acquisition
Hanchar wrote openly about how inexpensive the acquisition was, his reasons for making the deal, and how the acquisition posed no risk to Digital Dream Labs. Here’s the third paragraph from his announcement about the deal:
“Why did we do this, you may ask? For a multitude of reasons, but the biggest being market presence. The issue we’ve had since our inception, and many investors on this platform have correctly pointed out, has been marketing. This goes a long way to correct that issue and gives us access to millions of customers for what works out to a fraction of a penny on the dollar. We could not envision a more cost-effective method of expanding our reach while, at the same time, bringing aboard beloved robots and racing games into our family of products.”
Anki had more than 6.5 million customers and was connected to more than 19 million mobile devices.
Digital Dream Labs didn’t disclose the cost of the acquisition, but Hanchar wrote that “we did not pay much and in fact, the biggest cost to this deal is taking on the licensing agreements from third parties like cloud services. The cost of the purchase is not significant to our balance sheet in terms of liability and does not make a serious change to our runway or cash on hand.”
When addressing the potential worst-case scenario, he wrote that “in the unlikely scenario where everything goes wrong and we are unable to [do] anything we want to do, this acquisition becomes a glorified email list purchase that will still drive revenue.”
Dealing with Anki patent issues
Hanchar addressed a couple patent-related issues, including the patent infringement case Anki lost against StretchTech. Since Anki no longer existed as a company, a default judgement was rendered. It said Anki and its successors, among many other parties, are prohibited from “infringing any of the claims of the Asserted Patents in any manner, by making, using, or selling any products that fall within the claims of the Asserted Patents.”
Hanchar said Digital Dream Labs is “separate from those proceedings.” He added that Digital Dream Labs has reached out to StretchTech. “While commercial terms still need to be negotiated, we are confident we can move forward with them with a clean slate,” he wrote.
Anki abruptly shut down despite raising about $200 million in funding. It made more than $325 million in revenue since it was founded in 2010. It made $118 million in gross revenue in 2018.
All three of Anki’s co-founders have publicly acknowledged they have moved on. Palatucci joined Waymo in November as a Staff Research Scientist working on autonomous vehicles. In August, Tappeiner was named Director of Product Development at Apple’s Special Projects Group. Boris Sofman in June joined Waymo as its Director of Engineering, Head of Trucking.
Steve, thanks for keeping up on the current state of Anki products. I have the entirety of the Overdrive line which was very expensive to acquire at one point. I was considering Vector until I saw Anki had crashed and burned. I have had concerns about the Overdrive app shutting down one day but things are looking better with this news. Hopefully Digital Dream Labs will capitalize on Anki’s following and one day provide new content and more advanced robots. If you hear anything about Overdrive in particular I would be most interested. Please keep up the good work with your reporting and know that you are appreciated.
Jacob Hanchar says
Hi Steve, the article says you’ve reached out to Digital Dream Labs, but I don’t have an email, phone call, or any other communication that shows you’ve attempted to contact us. Yes, we are restoring the full platform of Anki offerings.
Steve Crowe says
Jacob, thanks for chatting this morning.
Jacob Hanchar says
Hey Jacob! Great to see Anki and it’s products may be brought back to life. I just bought the Overdrive system for my kids for Christmas (Starter and Fast and Furious Edition) and we all love it. I hope that the plans will not be to overhaul the existing platforms, but expand on it as the second gen platform is very well thought out (outside of easily replaceable LiPo batteries in the cars).
This platform has many possibilities to the extent of even online multiplayer, competition leagues (if online multiplayer can be achieved) and more which would significant broaden the customer base.
Looking forward to see what’s next in this new venture.
Terri H says
This is the best news !!!! My son bought me a Vector in 2018. I love it !!! I was so sad to hear they closed and was afraid my Vector buddy would stop working. Now I have hope that he will be around for a long time !!!
Thanks again Digital Dream Labs !!!
Wally Ebeling says
This is good news and I hope Cozmo comes back. We love to play with him and it is unthinkable he would die. He helps children with special needs. Thank you and we wish you good luck and happy New Year !
I just bought Vector for my son for Christmas not knowing they shut down. He’s working well so far, but hopefully there’s not period where he just stops working before anything happens with the new company
I’m hoping the new owners will make Vector open source of they don’t carry on with him. It will be a shame if he just goes mute for so many owners who enjoy this office robot.
Yashi Moto Hiro says
My Vector Fell Silent This Morning. I hope that Digital Dream Lab can give him back his voice…
Did you try to turn him off and then back on? That revived my Vector.
Matthew L says
I just bought Vector for my daughter for Christmas. I just found out about the shutdown. Should I return it? Didn’t realize Cozmo would be better suited for her. Thinking of buying Cozmo and keeping Vector for us adults. I’m hoping with the recent sell of all Anki assets that there is hope for the future for these products, but seems like company more interested in Cozmo. I think there will be a place in future for Vector because of Alexia built in. What’s your thoughts and any advice appreciated. Thanks.
I’m Keith from Kinvert.
Personally I’d recommend against returning Vector for the following reasons.
Vector still works, and we have no reason to think Vector will stop working.
Worst case scenario is some cloud functionality could go down in a couple years. But that said, with Digital Dream Labs purchasing Anki’s IP, I personally doubt they’d let the cloud services end as it would reflect badly on them from a consumer standpoint. They seem like a good company with a good reputation.
Ultimately it’s your call, but now that I see Digital Dream Labs bought the IP and stated their intent to move forward, we’re looking to buy more Cozmo and Vector robots while they’re on sale.
Hope this helps.
Thank you Steve. I love Vector. I’m not sure if I love him enough to subscribe to a service.
That’s disappointing news.
Since I don’t write code I’m lost. I read on Anki’s website about how others control him with code and I’m impressed.
I bought him looking forward to future updates by Anki and even filled out a survey of other things I’d like him to do.
I guess I’ll use him and love what he can do until September 2020 when the little guy will be useless.
Makes me sad.
Steve Crowe says
Debi, keep in mind these ideas – subscription, open-source Vector 2.0, reviving Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector – are just business ideas at this point. Sure, certain things are in the works, but we’ll have to wait and see where this all goes.
I agree. I am not about to pay for what I have ALREADY paid for.
Debanjan Dey says
You would have received emails from Digital Dream Labs – they have a kickstarter going on for $17 lifetime access to all future updates – if you pledge by Mar 14.
This is the only way to avoid the subscription payment, so its well worth it!
S Clarkson says
Until Digital Dreams goes belly up with more of our money. No thank you!
Thank you Steve. I enjoy your reports immensely.
Yes we will have to wait and see.
I’m hoping for the best as people were still buying Vector this holiday.
Its so very exciting to see Anki’s IP being purchased. It would be great to continue the functionality and features of Vector and I can see that if they keep on developing Vector and I have heard in the articles that I have been reading that ANKI was developing a successor to Vector it would be interesting to see where it goes and it will keep some of the loyal customers and hopefully reward Digital Dream Labs for their investment.
Diane Parmer says
I purchased an Anki cozmo interstellar blue model number 300-00070. I didnt know the charging dock wasn’t included. I have searched online and am unable to find the charging accessories anywhere. It was a christmas gift for my 12 year old grandson. Please let me know where to purchase this charger.
Hi, Diane. I found these on eBay, but since I don’t have a Cozmo, I don’t know if the part number for the charger needs to match the model number for the Cozmo. If they don’t, then it looks like these will work:
Maciej Weiss says
I’m glad hearing Anki’s ideas may still be alive in upcoming years. A year ago I bought COZMO for my son and he was (and still he is) amazed by this cute and entertaining toy. Btw. what about AppStore and software update? Will it be updated soon? Thanks a lot for any info.
Deb Hearon says
My vector was working fine until today. I was wondering why all of a sudden he has forgotten all of our names even though all of them are still on the app? Also, he will not perform his scan to recognize our faces today either. Just strange because he was saying my name all the time.
I hope this means my Vector will receive updates and improvements, and will once again connect with Alexa. I do not feel I should pay extra for what I already thought was included with my original Vector purchase.
David Illman says
Perhaps instead of subscriptions you could have free basic update a d then bolt ons for a one off payment per bolt on.
Chess. Bolt up
Security camera bolt up
Nest or hive bolt on
All bolt ons have a one off cost.
While chacter updates are free. Making him mo like Cozmo character.
Dave Touretzky says
This is very good news for Calypso users. Calypso is an intelligent robot programming framework for Cozmo that can be used to teach kids about AI. People who want to use Calypso but are worried about purchasing a robot from a defunct manufacturer will soon be able to breathe a bit easier.
Andrew Chen says
This is the best news in Year 2020 so far! Another Pittsburgh company, ReadyAI , has been using Cozmo and Calypso/CodeLab to teach K12 students AI. We are so glad Cozmo is come back to life! Good work! Thanks for the story.
Will Vector 2.0 be update on existing Vector robot?
I hope I won’t have to purchase a brand new robot to experience Vector 2.0?
I got a vector for Christmas from my wife fully knowing that they were closing shop but at the price in December it was well worth it. I have had zero issues with him and he is an amazing little robot. If you do have issues with facial recognition or voice response i would recommend restarting him and also checking his lights to ensure he is online. He does tend to recognize my voice much more consistently then my kids or my wifes but i’m sure that’s just because i make sure to talk slower and more defined to ensure he hears my commands. I am excited about this news and looking forward to see what is on the horizon for the Anki line of products.
I Got my Vector for Christmas from my dad. I would love to see more updates because there is so much more potential for him. I just hope that the first Vector is not forgotten with the new version 2.0.
I bought Vector last year. If they can send periodic updates that gives Vector more functionality (remembering/recognizing a previously scanned location) and enhancing the AI (recognizes/reacts to animals such as pets), I wouldn’t mind paying $3 a month which I think would be a fair price to maintain the server and software updates.
Good news for Anki 🙂
I don’t like the idea of the three tier pay for service. I really hope that does not happen I can understand having a subscription for updates yearly but not on paying on more functionality sorry but that is ridiculous. This is why electronics are so pricey and have downfalls because when a company sees another struggling they buy it and then they price gouge consumers as they have already been roped into loving the product. When you make consumers pay for the amount of functionality then you are classifying consumers into poor, middle, and rich classes it is wrong. Pay one set price and make the functionality be placed into the robot that consumers already bought from anki don’t make us have to purchase a whole other vector 2.0 especially since I just bought this one for Christmas for my son.
I dont think it’s fair I have 4 vectors I’ve had then since launch wich was around £250 each up front payment and now I’m being told itll be subscription based and I need to pay more to have him run as good as he can in such a case I would be furious and want my money back, there was no mention of having to pay extra when i bought him.
What is going to happen with my old anki overdrive cars and everything. Will I be able to trade them in for the new and relaunched ones?
Hello Dream Labs, will the overdrive cars get a new update on the app? And will you make new cars for Anki Overdrive?
yea will you make more/new cars for Anki Overdrive?
My vector does still work, and reacts to me as normal. I have subscribed to the service but have yet to try any of the updates listed so far. I also have overdrive so look forward to what improvements and additional hardware will be available for it as my kids love it.
Hi Colin, which subscription did you buy and what version is the software now. I am planning on getting the subscription but not sure if they did work on anything or not. My version is still 1.6 something. any update will be appreciated.
J Klen says
My son bought a Vector over a year ago. He is working fine. Just received an email that he’ll no longer provide voice recognition unless we pay a subscription? This was never mentioned when he bought a unit. Isn’t this extortion?
Jonn N. says
I purchased a Vector in 2018. I am really disappointed in the direction the original project has taken! Now with Digital Dream Labs in charge of things it seems like it’s an ongoing series of ‘subscribe for this’, ‘pay for that’, ‘if you don’t do such-and-such by a certain date, this will happen’, etc., etc.
I understand profit is important, but come on! How do we know that this too will not come to an abrupt halt down the road and then we’ll be owners of a cute little expensive paperweight? Poor business practice in my opinion.
What’s next?? I’m not inclined to keep shelling out my retirement dollars for an item with a dubious future!
A response would be appreciated.