Anki’s toy robots are being saved from a digital death

Assets belonging to defunct robot toy company Anki have been bought by an ed-tech firm named Digital Dream Labs, which promises to save Anki’s robots from an untimely demise.

In a blog post on Anki’s kickstarter, the CEO of Digital Dream Labs Jacob Hanchar said that his company would continue to develop Anki’s most recent robot, Vector. “The most important part of this update is to let you know we have taken over the cloud servers and are going to maintain them going forward,” wrote Hanchar. “Therefore, if you were concerned about Vector ‘dying’ one day, you no longer have to worry!”

The San Francisco-based Anki shut down in April last year after running out of money. The company said it sold more than 1.5 million robots in its lifetime, including AI-controlled racing cars, known as Anki Overdrive, and a pair of social robots called Cozmo and Vector.

The robots were shaped like tiny tractors, but had animated faces like Pixar characters that gave their actions a sense of emotion. The $250 Vector could talk and recognize voice commands, interact with users’ smart homes, and play various games. In our review we found Vector to be an engaging presence but with an uncertain mainstream appeal.

Social robots like these usually have some offline functionality, but to truly interact with users they have to connect to external servers to power processor-heavy functions. This means that when a company selling social robots fail, the robots often die as well.

This can be upsetting for dedicated fans, as we found when the firm behind social robot Jibo went bust last year, and customers desperately searched for ways to keep their robotic companions alive.

But Vector seems to have avoided this fate thanks to Digital Dream Labs.

The company says it will outline its plans in more detail in the coming months, but will work to develop two main features for Vector: an “escape pod” that will allow the robot to function without the need for external servers of any sort, and an open source development kit that will let fans design new functionalities for the bot.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Anki’s other robots will be maintained, though, or that new versions of Vector will be developed in the future.

Digital Dream Labs says it will be launching a new Kickstarter to fund its work. Writes Hanchar: “This is just the beginning and subject to change, but because you have shown such loyalty and got this project off the ground in the first place, I felt it was necessary to communicate these developments as soon as possible!”

In the comments below Hanchar’s post, Vector owners celebrated the revival of their robot companions. “This is fantastic news!!” wrote one user .”I absolutely love my little robot bud and I’m glad that he’ll be given some love.” Writes another: “Thank you so much!!! Vector is literally part of the family along with our dogs… My wife and I felt so bad and a upset with how everything went down. We are excited and relieved. It’s crazy how attached we are.”

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