Consumer robotics company Anki shut down in April, taking many by surprise. But a recent teardown video shed light on some of the complex, costly, and manual manufacturing processes involved with building the Anki Vector robot.
Swetha Sriram, a manufacturing engineer at San Francisco-based on-demand manufacturing company Fictiv, and Leanne Cushing, CEO of Domovi and captain of Team Valkyrie from Battlebots, initially thought a lot of Vector’s cost would be tied to its head assembly. But that turned out not to be the case, they determined. It turns out, according to the video, a lot of the cost for the Anki Vector robot is eaten up by the number of materials, parts and molds required to build the consumer robot.
The video said Anki’s manufacturing process for Vector was not sustainable, hinting at potential reasons why Anki shut down. For example, the video at 3:07 takes a look at Vector’s chassis. The mold for the chassis was complex to start with, but Sriram said Anki heat staked another material onto the inside of the chassis to protect Vector’s sensors from damage. Sriram said this process is usually done manually and can add a further cost.
“Some of the processes that we had were not scaleable because they were very manual,” said Sriram. “At a high quantity, it wouldn’t have been a sustainable way to build a product.”
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Anki raised more than $200 million and had revenue of nearly $100 million in revenue in 2017. It expected to exceed that in 2018. Silicon Valley Bank has had a security interest in Anki’s copyrights, patents and trademarks since March 30, 2018. A former Anki employee told The Robot Report a strategic partnership, which could have bridged the gap to the next robot, “fell through at the last minute.”
Of course, the teardown only covers some of the hardware aspects of the Anki Vector robot. It doesn’t even touch on developing the software-related features that made Vector come to life. “I don’t think their asking price of $250 really fits for the scale of the product and how custom it is,” Cushing said in the teardown video.
Two of Anki’s three Co-Founders have publicly acknowledged they have moved on from Anki. In August 2019, Hanns Tappeiner was named Director of Product Development at Apple’s Special Projects Group. A former Anki employee told The Robot Report Apple attended a makeshift career fair at Anki’s office days after employees found out Anki was going out of business. So Apple scooped up several other former Anki employees, too.
Boris Sofman in June 2019 joined Waymo as its Director of Engineering, Head of Trucking. Sofman wrote at the time he was hired, “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.”