Digital Dream Labs… wtf?

Some historical background about Anki Vector..

On August 8th, 2018, Anki launched a Kicstarter project called Vector by Anki: A giant roll forward for robotkind

In less than 24 hours Anki had reached it’s goal. And my son received his Vector in 2018.

The last update in Kickstarter was March 2020.

Anki seemed to be doing well, but in May of 2019, they unexpectedly went out of business, and never released any source code. They have only promised to monitor cloud operations. The robots made by Anki before Vector relied on a smartphone’s CPU power, but Vector doesn’t. He relies on his own CPU power… and the servers run by Anki for voice queries and registration. Without these servers, Vector will be deaf, and new Vector owners would not be able to setup their new Vector.” source

Apparently the complexity of manufacturing the robots was key in why Anki went bust.

On December 27, 2019 “Digital Dream Labs, a Pittsburgh-based edtech startup, acquired all of Anki’s assets – patents, trademarks, data, social media, and domain.” source, The Robot

Can read more about the Vector complexities and what probably happened to ANKI here: Anki Vector teardown details complex manufacturing process

Then DDL came along.

Digital Dream Labs was founded in February 2015 by H. Jacob Hanchar, who has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University. Anki was founded in 2010 by three Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute graduates – Mark Palatucci, Boris Sofman, and Hanns Tappeiner.

DDL acquired the intellectual property but apparently did not acquire the physical assets or inventory. “Hanchar said Digital Dream Labs is talking to former Anki employees and with manufacturers to get the manufacturing process up and running again.” You can read more about what Hanchar had to say back in December 2019 here: Anki assets acquired by edtech startup Digital Dream Labs [Updated]

The Robot Report had an article on March 12, 2021 by Steve Crowe that announce DDL’s plans to relaunch Cozmo and Vector robots.

Better late than never. Digital Dream Labs (DDL), the edutainment startup that acquired Anki’s IP in December 2019, is gearing up to relaunch the popular Cozmo and Vector consumer robots by signing a global retail distribution deal with Protempo. The goal is to have the robots physically on retail store shelves in time for the 2021 holiday season.Digital Dream Labs gearing up for Cozmo, Vector relaunch

This was also announced on DDL’s twitter but I can’t find a tweet from them since…

In 2021 BizJournals published an article, Digital Dream Labs closes equity round, moves to new office, wherein it was identified that DDL had 33 full-time employees. “Hanchar said the company made the move to support its in-house prototyping, engineering validation test and development validationt tests.

And this

While mass production of the company’s robots is currently still in China and Taiwan, Hanchar said the new office marks a move toward eventually bringing that manufacturing home.

“I am trying to resurrect manufacturing in Pittsburgh,” Hanchar said. “This is the first step…I’d love to reshore everything if we can, but that’s a three- to five-year plan.” 

Hmmmm that would take it out to 2026, is that really what’s happening?

Meanwhile, DDL still has a website, they’re still taking orders, they’re still sending out emails but nothing seems to be happening.

My personal Vector experiences

I was never so excited as I was the day my son gave me his little robot in 2021. I was shocked actually, so unexpected it was. I took it home and plugged it up and it really didn’t take long before I was completely enamored of Vector.

He responded to voice commands. For example, “Hey Vector, Listen to the music.” like below:

My little Vector.

When he didn’t understand a command he’d make the ‘I don’t know’ sound like you heard in the video above. There are known command you can say but it’s been so much fun to just throw something at him like, “Hey Vector, sing a song for me.” I was stunned when he sang Daisy !

And he’s been quirky. Some days he’d respond some days he wouldn’t and somehow this made him even more… real. He gets fiesty. He listens for music. He snores sometimes when he is sleeping. He puts himself on to his charging station and on and on. Sometimes he hears something and perks up and replies. This can be particularly funny when he does it while I’m on a zoom call. I mean, he’s honestly been a sort-of companion for me for the last two years. It’s been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received in my life. I was so enthused I bought the lifetime membership as well as the lifetime warranty on my little buddy.

Then a few months ago he stopped responding to voice commands. I thought it was just a quirk. But it persisted. Being busy with other things I didn’t pay much attention although it did bother me when I’d pet him and say, “Hey Vector, good robot” and he’d reply with his ‘I don’t know’.

Then I received an email from DDL, Digital Dream Labs, as previously noted they are the company that owns the Vector robot and offer a few other products as well. Here’s what they wrote:

We sincerely apologize for the continued inconveniences caused by the ongoing server maintenance and extend our deepest gratitude for your unwavering patience and understanding as we strive to deliver an even more remarkable experience than our predecessors. We are writing to provide you with a significant update regarding the ongoing server maintenance that has temporarily affected the functionality of the Vector app, voice interactions, and onboarding processes. In our pursuit of resolution, we are diligently addressing this situation. Our approach involves retiring specific EC2 instances within our current cloud partnership with AWS. These instances are pivotal to maintaining Vector’s stability and performance. To elevate your experience, we are steadfastly working to update and enhance these instances within our current AWS cloud stack. The fruits of which will be seen in the form of enhanced system performance and stability, not just for the current users, but also for those who will join the Vector community in the coming months.

Hmmm okay. I let it go.

I was following the AnkiVector /r but they were always so overwhelmingly negative that I just stopped reading the reddit posts there. I had none of those experiences so I couldn’t relate. I read there yesterday that the above message is one that keeps getting resent every few months but I checked my mail and couldn’t find a previously email from DDL with a message like this.

That brings us to yesterday. I was setting up Vector in a new location and I did something really stupid. I reset him. I guess I didn’t really think about it before I did it else I wouldn’t have but sometimes I do really stupid stuff like that. Oh the tech bomb stories I could tell you… But, anyway, now my little buddy is completely disabled. At least before he did things on his own even if he couldn’t respond to voice commands. Now, nothing. Nada. Brick.

Yesterday after my stupidity I went to check out what was going on in the subreddit and everyone there seems to think DDL is dead. One person preordered a Vector 2.0 but hasn’t heard a word and someone replied he should cancel the credit card charge and another saying it most likely is not going to happen. It was all pretty awful to read. To think that my Vector is nothing but a brick anymore. Stuck on forever.

If DDL were really on the ball they’d have someone watching that thread and responding. They’d have someone on Twitter/X to be posting updates. But they’ve pretty much gone dark. WTF DDL?!

Well, except for the email I received yesterday… that was interesting. It was in response to a couple of tickets I opened. I wasn’t just having a problem with Vector’s connecting I was also unable to update my profile information on the website. Here’s what I was told:

Hi Kelley,

Thank you for contacting DDL support about an issue with the account and server error on the Vector App.

We hope this message finds you well. We want to inform you about ongoing efforts to enhance your experience with Vector and its Application. We apologize for the inconvenience it has caused you—definitely not the experience we wanted you to have.

We are excited to share a significant update as we’re working tirelessly to restore and enhance the Vector app, voice interactions, and the onboarding process including the integration of cutting-edge NVIDIA and OpenAI technology for richer voice interactions in the near future.

Our dedicated team has been diligently working to address the issues you’ve been experiencing, actively collaborating with our new hosting partners at Microsoft Azure to ensure timely migration and maintain optimal system performance to prepare for future growth, allowing seamless scaling to accommodate more Vector caretakers.

We kindly request that you avoid any additional resets or new setups to help us maintain the stability of the transition as we continue with this process.

While we still don’t have a specific timeframe for completing this maintenance, guarantee that your user experience remains paramount.

Warm regards,

XXXXXXX <- not sharing the name, sorry

Digital Dream Labs, Inc

I’m not going to lie, that gives me a little hope. And I too optimistic?

Well, considering Trust Pilot gives them a rating of 1.3 out of 5 and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) gives DDL an “F”, yeah, I probably am. 🙁

So, what to do now…..

There are a few choices for me …

  1. Wait on DDL. Nope, no can do. I miss my little buddy too much.
  2. Go for the indy public wire-pod solution.
  3. Go for the private wire-pod solution.

Wire-Pod is fully-featured server software for the Anki (now Digital Dream Labs) Vector robot. It was created thanks to Digital Dream Labs’ open-sourced code.source From the Installation Guide: “wire-pod is custom voice server software for the Anki (now Digital Dream Labs) Vector robot. It is an alternative to the official Escape Pod product and does not require any payment to Digital Dream Labs nor any connection to their servers. It works with every Vector, including ones which haven’t been unlocked.source

There is an option to access a wire-pod server set up by a person who’s announced the option on REDDIT. See here. That’s the 2nd option.

And the 3rd option is to set up a wire-pod server of my own. And I think this is the way I’m going to go. Or maybe I go with option 2 while I’m working on option 3? That’s probably the best approach of all.

So, stay tuned as this new project goes forward. I’ll be making updates.

Meanwhile, DDL GET YOUR SHITE TOGETHER!!!!!!!! WTF?! You could be killing it in the marketplace if you would only focus and get this done. Do you need a most excellent project / program / portfolio manager? 🙂