Top robotics companies that failed in recent years


Every year, many new robotics companies are trying to make cool stuff. But not all of them stick around. Why do some of these companies fail? Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Sometimes, they don’t do enough research about what people want. Other times, they run out of money or face too much competition. Let’s look at some top robotics companies that haven’t made it in recent years.

Failed robotics companies

1. Anki

Anki, a pioneering robot startup founded in 2010 by Boris Sofman, Hanns Tappeiner, and Mark Palatucci in the United States, sought to revolutionize children’s toys and games by integrating robotics and IoT. Despite gaining traction and amassing a team of 100-250 employees, Anki’s ambitious vision was cut short when it closed its doors in April 2019 due to a significant funding shortfall, unable to secure the necessary capital to sustain its operations. Despite having raised over $50 million in funding, the company ultimately succumbed to the challenge of securing further financial support, marking the unfortunate end of its innovative journey.

2. Argo AI

Argo AI, a self-driving technology company, abruptly ceased operations in October despite substantial backing from Ford and Volkswagen. The decision to close was driven by Ford’s strategic pivot from funding the development of Level 4 autonomous driving technology towards enhancing its own Level 2 and Level 3 systems. Ford’s CEO, Jim Farley, highlighted the extensive challenges and financial demands of achieving Level 4 autonomy, citing the necessity for breakthroughs in cost-effective sensing, efficient algorithms, and advanced neural networks. Despite significant investments totaling over $100 billion industry-wide, a scalable, profitable business model for Level 4 autonomy has yet to emerge. Argo AI, which originated from Carnegie Mellon in 2016, had raised $3.6 billion and forged partnerships with major entities like Walmart and Lyft before its closure, reflecting the broader industry’s struggles with the high technical and economic barriers of fully autonomous vehicle deployment.

3. Chowbotics

DoorDash shut down its subsidiary Chowbotics less than 1.5 years after acquiring it. Chowbotics, founded in 2014, developed Sally, a vending machine-like robot designed to prepare salads and other fresh meals. Despite industry skepticism about whether Sally qualified as a robot, DoorDash saw potential in integrating Chowbotics’ technology to enhance restaurant operations by expanding menus and enabling salad bars in more locations without additional staff. However, DoorDash discontinued Chowbotics, reflecting its approach to building new products and making strategic decisions about scaling, continuing, or cutting investments. The spokesperson emphasized that DoorDash continually seeks innovative ways to serve merchants and meet rising consumer expectations while optimizing its logistics infrastructure.

4. Fifth Season

Fifth Season, a Pittsburgh-based company and spinout from Carnegie Mellon University, used robotics to grow and harvest leafy vegetables, packaging them as salads, mixed greens, or variety packs. Founded in 2016, the company raised over $75 million in investment. Despite these efforts, Fifth Season shut down in October. At its closure, the company employed around 100 people, with approximately 20 working shifts at its 60,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The shutdown reflects the broader challenges in scaling robotic indoor farming operations to achieve long-term financial sustainability.

5. Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk, an ambitious venture founded in 2010 by Sebastian Thrun, aimed to revolutionize transportation with autonomous flying cars but ultimately closed its doors in September. Thrun, known for founding and leading Google’s self-driving car project Waymo, led Kitty Hawk through various innovative projects, including multiple aircraft designs and a successful beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight demonstration in Ohio in 2021. The company expanded its capabilities by acquiring 3D Robotics in June 2021, appointing its co-founder, Chris Anderson, as chief operating officer. Despite these efforts and a strategic shift towards developing remote-piloted electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, Kitty Hawk could not establish a sustainable business model. Thrun acknowledged the difficulty of the endeavor, stating that they could not identify a viable path to profitability.

6. Karakuri

Karakuri, a startup specializing in using robots to assemble meals for food industry clients, ceased operations in June. The company offered innovative automated solutions, including the FRYR family of automated fry lines and SEMBLR, an automated meal assembly system catering to various ingredients and cuisines. Karakuri could not attain the necessary financial support despite efforts to secure additional funding, including negotiations with food-service equipment manufacturer Henny Penny. The company expressed regret at its inability to secure funding to sustain its developments and bring its products to market. Founded in 2018, Karakuri received a significant investment from Ocado in 2019, with the online grocer acquiring a nearly 20% stake in the company for approximately $6 million. Despite this backing, Karakuri’s closure underscores the challenges startups face in securing adequate funding to realize their vision and sustain operations in competitive markets.

7. Local Motors

Established in 2007, Local Motors ventured into the autonomous vehicle sector in 2016 with the launch of Olli, an autonomous shuttle. The first iteration, Olli 1.0, was a low-speed electric pod designed for controlled environments like hospitals and universities, capable of driving 60 miles on a single charge. In 2019, the company introduced Olli 2.0, which featured a higher top speed of 25 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles per charge. Despite these advancements, Local Motors faced financial challenges and ceased operations in early January due to insufficient funding. The company’s testing of Olli in Toronto was halted in December 2021 after an Olli 1.0 shuttle, operated manually at the time, collided with a tree, critically injuring the attendant. This incident led to the suspension of Olli trials by the City of Toronto. Throughout its operations, Local Motors raised $15.3 million over six funding rounds but could not sustain its business.

8. Neato Robotics

Neato Robotics, a robot vacuum manufacturer, was shut down by its parent company, Vorwerk Group, in April as part of a broader restructuring strategy. Vorwerk, which acquired Neato in 2017, decided to concentrate more on selling vacuums and other robots from its Germany office. Despite the shutdown, Vorwerk committed to supporting Neato’s cloud-based service and ensuring the availability of spare parts for the next five years. Founded in 2005, Neato Robotics became a significant competitor to iRobot, distinguishing itself with a unique “D” shaped design that purportedly enabled more precise cleaning of corners and other challenging areas.

9. Perceptive Automata

Perceptive Automata, a Boston-based developer of AI for understanding human behavior in autonomous vehicles and robots, ceased operations after failing to secure Series B funding. Founded in 2015, the company raised $20 million in total. According to co-founder and CTO Sam Anthony, the shutdown was unexpected for the staff, who felt blindsided by the sudden collapse. Anthony acknowledged that the failure to meet specific benchmarks set by venture capitalists and external factors beyond their control placed the company in a precarious position. Despite their innovative approach, Perceptive Automata could not overcome the financial hurdles required to continue operations.

10. PrecisionHawk

PrecisionHawk, a commercial drone developer based in Raleigh, North Carolina, closed its doors in December after voluntarily filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company faced approximately $17 million in debt against assets valued at around $3.8 million. Founded in 2010, PrecisionHawk initially garnered attention as a promising drone startup and raised over $136 million in funding over the years, including a significant $32 million Series E round in 2019. The company provided an integrated platform comprising drone and sensor hardware and flight and analytics software services. Its drones collected data that was processed into actionable intelligence using proprietary software. Additionally, PrecisionHawk developed unmanned aircraft traffic management (UTM) systems to facilitate the integration of drones into airspace. Despite its ambitious endeavors and substantial funding, the company’s financial challenges ultimately led to its closure, underscoring the commercial drone industry’s competitive and financially demanding nature.

11. QBotix

QBotix, founded by Wasiq Bokhari in the United States in 2010, introduced a groundbreaking approach to solar energy with solar panels equipped with tracking technology to optimize sunlight capture. However, despite an initial surge in interest and securing funding ranging from $10 million to $50 million, the company faced challenges as competitors rapidly advanced, improving the efficiency of their solar solutions. This escalating competition eroded QBotix’s cost-effectiveness, ultimately leading to its closure in 2015. With a team size ranging from 10 to 50 employees, QBotix’s innovative vision encountered insurmountable market pressures, marking the end of its journey in the renewable energy sector.

12. Rovenso

Rovenso, a Switzerland-based company, developed autonomous robots for the security and safety monitoring of industrial sites. Founded in 2016, Rovenso raised $2.8 million in funding. The company ultimately shut down, a decision influenced significantly by the unforeseen impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on business development and component sourcing. Co-founder and CEO Thomas Estier acknowledged on LinkedIn that the team did not fully anticipate how the pandemic would disrupt their operations, contributing to the company’s inability to sustain its business.

13. Everyday Robots

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, shut down its subsidiary Everyday Robots in February as part of a larger layoff impacting 12,000 workers, or 6% of its workforce. Everyday Robots, which had graduated from Alphabet’s X moonshot lab, employed over 200 people. Some technology and team members were integrated into other robotics projects within Google Research, though Alphabet did not specify how many employees remained. The company had developed over 100 wheeled, one-armed robots capable of cleaning cafeteria tables, sorting trash from recycling, and opening doors. Despite steady improvements in their capabilities, these robots never reached commercialization, leading to the project’s termination.

14. Seven Dreamers Laboratories

Seven Dreamers Laboratory, founded by Shin Sakane in Japan in 2014, embarked on a bold mission to revolutionize household chores with a robotic solution capable of washing, ironing, and folding laundry. Despite securing substantial funding exceeding $50 million and amassing a workforce of 100-250 employees, the startup faced significant hurdles. While their innovative robot showcased remarkable capabilities, including automated laundry tasks, its high price tag rendered it inaccessible to many consumers. Additionally, the machine struggled to match the dexterity and adaptability of human hands, limiting its appeal and practicality. As a result, Seven Dreamers Laboratory ceased operations in 2019, unable to overcome the challenges posed by cost and human-like dexterity in the competitive market landscape.

15. Skyward

Skyward, a software platform for managing drone workflows, was acquired by Verizon in 2017 to streamline drone operations management. The platform offered features such as crew training, mission planning, and access to controlled airspace. Despite its promising technology, Skyward was shut down by Verizon in May, surprising many customers. Verizon attributed the decision to a strategic shift toward areas with greater near and mid-term growth potential. Before its acquisition, Skyward had raised $8.2 million over four funding rounds. The closure reflects Verizon’s prioritization of market agility and reallocation of resources to more immediate growth opportunities.

16. Skydio

Skydio, a leading drone manufacturer, decided over the summer to shut down its consumer drone business and refocus on serving enterprise and public sector customers. While the company discontinued offerings such as the Skydio 2+ Start, Sports, Cinema, or Pro Kits, it remains fully operational, providing software and customer support to existing users. This shift marked a significant development in the consumer drone industry, particularly within the U.S. In February 2023, Skydio secured $230 million in Series E funding, bringing its total funding to $562 million. Notably, in March 2021, Skydio attained unicorn status following its Series D funding round, highlighting its rapid growth and market significance. The company’s drones are extensively utilized by various entities, including every U.S. Department of Defense branch, over half of all U.S. State Departments of Transportation, more than 200 public safety agencies across 47 states, and over 60 energy utilities. This strategic pivot underscores Skydio’s commitment to serving critical enterprise and public sector needs with its advanced drone technology.

17. XACT Robotics

XACT Robotics, an Israeli medical robotics provider founded in 2013 by Harel Gadot and Yossi Bornstein, ceased operations in September, laying off all 65 employees. Specializing in autonomous robots for hands-free surgery, XACT developed needle-steering technology tailored for minimally invasive interventional procedures like biopsies and ablations. This technology utilized a five-degree-of-freedom robot, ongoing needle path calculation, and real-time closed-loop control. Despite its innovative approach, XACT struggled to generate significant revenue and failed to secure new funding. Although the company was in talks for acquisition, the deal ultimately fell through. Over the years, XACT has raised approximately $60 million in funding, with a notable $36 million round in 2019. The closure highlights the challenges of bringing advanced medical robotics technology to market and achieving financial sustainability in the healthcare industry.

18. Zume

Zume, a Silicon Valley-based company, ceased operations over the summer after burning through its substantial venture capital funding. Despite raising $445 million, including a significant investment of $375 million from SoftBank in 2018 at a valuation of $2.25 billion, Zume faced challenges in finding a sustainable business model. Originally known for its robotic pizza-making technology, the company pivoted in 2020 to focus on sustainable packaging, acquiring Pivot Packaging, a specialist in producing compostable food containers. However, this shift did not translate into a viable business, leading to Zume’s closure. The company’s rapid expenditure of funds, coupled with layoffs of over 50% of its staff during the transition, underscore the difficulties inherent in pivoting business models and achieving sustainability in the competitive startup landscape.