There are many reasons robotics companies fail. From an ill-conceived idea to burn rate and poor execution, building and running a sustainable robotics company is challenging. Robotics development requires a combination of technology expertise, team building and business acumen. And managing customer expectations might be the toughest task of all.
If you think 2018 was a tough year for robotics companies, 2019 wasn’t any better. And that’s especially true for consumer robotics companies, which have the misfortune of dominating the following list. Here are robotics companies we’ll remember losing, and in one case potentially re-gaining, in 2019.
What a roller coaster 2019 was for Anki and its popular consumer robots. Anki shocked the robotics world when it abruptly closed its doors in April. The company raised nearly $200 million and claimed to have made $118 million in gross revenue in 2018. Despite that, Anki wasn’t profitable, and sources told The Robot Report a strategic partnership “fell through at the last minute” that could have bridged the gap to the next robot.
Now that next robot has just received a second life. As first reported by The Robot Report, Anki’s assets were acquired in December by Digital Dream Labs, a Pittsburgh-based edtech startup. Digital Dream Labs Founder H. Jacob Hanchar said he has big plans for reviving Cozmo, Overdrive, and Vector.
Aria Insights (2008-2019)
Danvers, Mass.-based Aria Insights, which was formerly known as CyPhy Works, was founded in 2008 by Helen Greiner, who also co-founded iRobot in 1990. Greiner left CyPhy Works in 2017 and in June 2018 was named an advisor to the US Army for robotics, autonomous systems and AI.
The company was primarily known for its Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) platform, a tethered drone that provided secure communication and continuous flight to customers. It relied heavily on law enforcement and military contracts.
But after raising more than $39 million over seven funding rounds, the company abruptly shut down in March. Its intellectual property and operating assets were acquired by FLIR Sytsems in October. At the time of the acquisition, FLIR said it would use Aria’s technology to enhance its own tethered drone capabilities.
Blue Workforce (2012-2019)
Founded by Preben Hjørnet in 2012, Denmark-based Blue Workforce built the Ragnar cobot, which was designed to be affordable for small and midsize enterprises and has been used in pick-and-place operations, mostly in food processing.
The company had been selling products and had global offices, but it failed to get sufficient financing and closed in April. Just two weeks later, however, Blue Workforce’s assets were acquired by fellow Danish company OnRobot. Hjørnet has since founded Open Robotica, a startup that plans to help companies develop and adopt industrial automation through consulting and shared services.
Hease Robotics (2016-2019)
Founded by Jade Le Maitre and Max Vallet in 2016, France-based Hease Robotics debuted its Heasy mobile robot kiosk at CES 2017. The robot was designed to inform, entertain, and guide customers in retail and hospitality environments.
Unfortunately, a fire on October 8 destroyed Hease Robotics‘ offices, production facilities and inventory. The fire caused more than one million euros ($1.1 million) in damages, “plunging [Hease Robotics] immediately into a state of insolvency.” While the fire was the final straw, Le Maitre’s announcement of the shutdown indicated the company had been struggling for some time.
Keecker, another French robotics company, was building a consumer robot that could autonomously navigate and provide users with entertainment, security, communication, and smart home data. It was founded in 2012 and had raised more than $8 million in funding.
According to Founder and CEO Pierre Lebeau, however, Keecker ran out of cash as it couldn’t raise additional capital. The company closed its doors in March. Lebeau said Keecker had “over 1000 robots out there, thousands of users and have seen some amazing stats like 3.5 hours of usage [per] day.”
Acutronic Robotics (2016-2019)
Acutronic Robotics, which developed ROS-based communication tools for modular robot design, shut down on July 31. Its Hardware Robot Operating System (H-ROS) was a communication bus to enable robot hardware to interoperate smoothly, securely, and safely.
It was waiting on financing and received acquisition proposals, but it was unable to agree to any of them. The company was founded in 2016 after Acutronic Link Robotics AG’s acquisition of Erle Robotics. There once was a lot of promise in H-ROS as Sony and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were early investors.
Tokyo-based Seven Dreamers filed for bankruptcy in April. It was developing the Laundroid laundry-folding robot, which was a staple for several years at CES. However, its size and cost – estimated at $16,500 – were big barriers to adoption.
Chores such as folding laundry were supposed to be targets for automation, but many have proven to be too complex to cheaply solve. Seven Dreamers reportedly raised $89 million and had accumulated $20 million in debt. The company had partnered with Panasonic Corp. and Daiwa House Industries Corp.
Reach Robotics (2013-2019)
Reach Robotics, a Bristol, United Kingdom-based consumer robotics company, launched its MekaMon gaming robots in late 2016. The four-legged MekaMon robot moves around a physical space while users battle virtual enemies through an augmented reality game on an app. Reach Robotics launched version 2 of MekaMon in late 2018.
But after raising $7.8 million in funding, Reach Robotics Co-Founder Silas Adekunle announced on September 3 that the company was shutting down. Reach Robotics was strapped for cash and failed to find an investor to keep the lights on. In his announcement about the shutdown, Adekunle said the “consumer robotics sector is an inherently challenging space – especially for a start-up.”
Buck Crowley says
Robots need to be a solution to a compelling problem; ideally one that benefits humanity.
Otherwise, even if they’re successful for a while, there’s no long-term future,.
I’m with Buck.
Andrew Ewen says
Very informative article, Steve! I too agree with Buck. Building a robotic solution must be based on solving an inherent problem. The solution must remove the proverbial “pain point” and can not be cost-prohibitive for the targeted customer base. As a startup, it is always sad to see so many companies close their doors. For startups, this is a long, hard journey. Kudos to the companies for trying. I am sure many of these companies may morph and reemerge with different solutions. Here’s to hoping they will!