I’ve never owned a “social robot,” and if Jibo and the Anki Vector are any sign of the state of these specific niche gizmos, I don’t expect that to change whenever soon. Both were relatively simple robotics that specialized more in companionship than sheer functionality, and both came to unforeseen ends; less than 2 months after Jibo Inc. shut its doors, Anki announced that it, too, was going out of organisation.
While that’s unfortunate news on its own, it highlights a larger problem surrounding the concept of connected devices that depend on the cloud for even basic performance. While Vector can still run on extremely restricted functionality without its moms and dad company, its more personalized features like speech recognition is all cloud-based. With the shuttering of Anki, that’s all gone, and customers are primarily entrusted to a $250 paperweight.
That’s a scary idea that equates to other, more common linked gadgets. Take the Google House Mini, for example, which is absolutely nothing more than Google Assistant baked into a small speaker. Without being able to connect to the cloud, the Home Mini becomes absolutely nothing however a Bluetooth speaker– you can’t even ask for the weather condition.
Sure, it’s a bit less likely that Google closes up shop tomorrow, however the point is that this sort of thing can occur to business– particularly smaller startups– without caution. In that event, it’s hard to be sure what all performance will continue to work as typical and what functions you’ll lose. There’s also no informing what will become of the data you have actually allowed to be sent to the cloud, particularly with items like Vector that have cameras and microphones.
Certainly, the answer isn’t to avoid the cloud entirely; I believe the more crucial takeaway is to keep a close eye on the companies whose cloud-based products you’re spending your money on. If LIFX were to fail tomorrow, I’m uncertain my wise lights would even work anymore, and I do not love the concept that the loan I’ve invested on them would be wasted.
For more context on Vector and its moms and dad business, Anki, take a look at MrMobile’s post-mortem video linked above.