The news just broke that Anki Co-Founder and CEO Boris Sofman is now leading Waymo’s autonomous trucking efforts. Sofman wrote a blog on LinkedIn announcing the move and said 12 other former Anki employees have already joined him at Waymo.
In his blog, Sofman also finally addressed Anki shutting down. Sofman’s blog is reprinted in its entirety below.
“I’ve been humbled by the reactions and messages of support following our recent decision to bring Anki to a close after 10 years. It’s been a tough and emotional stretch these past months. Despite the warm wishes from former employees, friends, and customers, finding the right words to close this chapter has been difficult.
“We started Anki with the goal of bringing technologies from robotics and AI into mass-market consumer products. Leveraging the explosion in popularity of the smart-phone, innovation in components and sensors, and advances in AI capabilities, we brought to market a new class of surprisingly capable and interactive entertainment products. Since the launch of our first product, Anki Drive, in 2013 we’ve shipped over 3.5 million devices and robots around the world, with annual revenues approaching $100M. I’m proud that we brought joy to millions of children and their families while educating consumers on a future with uniquely intelligent and interactive technology. Behind the scenes we were building on this foundation with a rich roadmap beyond entertainment, but in the end we couldn’t overcome recent hurdles and the complexities of consumer hardware.
“What stands out most to me is the incredible team I had the privilege of working with during this time. Not only were they a diverse and talented group of people, but their unique collaboration was what made Anki and our products so special. Together we built a culture which made coming to work every day a true pleasure, and we became the closest of friends. We took on many hard problems and loved the journey and the family at Anki that grew with us along the way. It was quite a run!
“Coming out of this experience, the scary question of “what’s next?” was top of mind. The answer came after a serendipitous trip with much of the Anki team to visit some old friends at Waymo. While I’ve spent the last fifteen years working in robotics, it was autonomous driving that first sparked my attraction to the field and was the focus of my thesis at Carnegie Mellon. Throughout the last decade, I would look over at what was happening at Waymo and be inspired by the progress they were making, and the inevitable impact their technology would have on everyone’s lives in the years to come. Waymo’s experience, depth, and rigor in their approach makes them the leader to realize the potential of safe and truly autonomous vehicles.
“While they have been focusing on autonomous ride-hailing for the last few years, what they are actually doing is solving the fundamental technical challenges of driving. This means outside of ride-hailing there is an incredible opportunity to apply and expand this technology to other high-impact applications.
“One such application where Waymo has already built a strong foundation is trucking. I’m honored to be joining the team to lead the autonomous trucking engineering effort. Joining me will be 12 of my former teammates from Anki who represent much of the initial technical team. We’ll be based out of Waymo’s San Francisco offices where we hope to grow the team in the years ahead. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we look forward to working with and learning from the exceptional team at Waymo as we pursue the mission of bringing self-driving cars (and trucks!) to the world.
“Thank you to all of our friends, colleagues, families, and partners that helped and supported us in our journey at Anki, and to all of our new friends and colleagues at Waymo for welcoming us on this new and exciting adventure.”
Of course, losing Anki is a big blow to the consumer robotics market. This isn’t just another Jibo, Keecker, Laundroid or Mayfield Robotics shutting down. Anki was more successful than all of those companies combined. Anki said it had sold more than 3.5 million robots worldwide. The company said it made nearly $100 million in revenue in 2017 and expected to exceed that figure in 2018.
Sources told The Robot Report Anki had a had a prototype of its next consumer robot. Anki also had a strategic partnership in place that “fell through at the last minute.” The source would not disclose details about the partnership, but later said Anki was not interested in developing a one-off, licensed robot in partnership with a well-known brand, which is a popular move among toy companies.
Sonos also recently hired a group of former Anki employees. Seeing more former Anki employees scooped up by another company certainly is not a development Anki customers wanted to see. But, as Sofman wrote, at least it brings some closure to this story.