Update on December 26, 2019: Anki’s assets have been acquired by edtech startup Digital Dream Labs. Read Story.
In what is likely the final nail in the coffin, Waymo has hired 13 former Anki employees, including Co-Founder and CEO Boris Sofman. According to Sofman’s LinkedIn profile, he is now Director of Engineering, Head of Trucking, Waymo.
Sofman wrote about the news in a LinkedIn post called “A New Adventure with Waymo.” Here’s part of what he wrote:
“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.”
Sofman also addressed the closing of Anki, which we’ll address in a separate story. Sofman is not new to autonomous vehicles. While he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Sofman worked with Waymo alumni in the AV labs. According to Axios, which first reported Waymo’s hiring of Anki’s engineers, the “group includes 5 PhD engineers, mostly from CMU’s famed robotics program, as well as Stanford, MIT and Georgia Tech.”
According to a LinkedIn search, some of the former Anki employees who are now at Waymo include:
- Nathan Monson, former Anki Director of Hardware Engineering, is a LiDAR Engineer at Waymo
- Bradford Neuman, former Anki Technical Director, AI, Planning & Navigation, is now working on planning and behaviors for Waymo’s autonomous trucks
- Benjamin Morse, former Anki Senior Manager of Cloud AI is now a Waymo Senior Software Engineer
- Charlie Hite, former Anki VP of Program Management is now running Program Management at Waymo
- Tommy Liu, a former Anki Robotics Engineer, is now a Robotics Software Engineer at Waymo
Sonos also recently hired a group of former Anki employees.
Anki raised more than $200 million and claimed it had revenue of nearly $100 million in revenue in 2017. It expected to exceed that figure in 2018. Anki’s shutdown has been well-documented by The Robot Report. We reported just last week that Silicon Valley Bank has had a security interest in Anki’s copyrights, patents and trademarks since March 30, 2018. If and when it forecloses on the IP, SVB could sell the assets to try to recoup part of its financial loss.
A former Anki employee also told The Robot Report a strategic partnership, which could have bridged the gap to the next robot, “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.