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Waymo hires engineers from shuttered robot startup Anki to work on its self-driving trucks

The deal involves 13 engineers, including former Anki CEO Boris Sofman

Waymo is hiring 13 engineers from shuttered robot toy startup Anki, including former Anki CEO Boris Sofman who will lead the Alphabet unit’s self-driving trucking project, the company said on Thursday. The news was first reported by Axios.

Anki launched in 2013 with a smartphone-controlled toy racecar set called Anki Drive. It raised more than $200 million in venture capital funding and sold 1.5 million robot units. That included Cozmo, a Pixar-style toy robot with anthropomorphic features that you could control, play games with, and even program yourself. But earlier this year, the company ran out of money and shut down.

Now, Anki’s core technical staff are heading to Waymo to work on self-driving trucks. That includes Anki’s former perception lead Andrew Stein and behavior lead Brad Neuman, head of hardware Nathan Monson, and program manager Charlie Hite. The group includes five PhD engineers, mostly from Carnegie Mellon University’s famed Robotics program, and others from Stanford, MIT, and Georgia Tech. Sofman, the former Anki CEO, will report directly to Waymo CTO Dmitri Dolgov.

Waymo is operating a limited ride-hailing service outside of Phoenix, Arizona, but it’s also interested in applying its self-driving technology to trucking. The company’s trucks have been tested over the last few years in California, and recently resumed testing in Arizona after completing a March 2018 pilot in Atlanta where it ran deliveries for Google’s logistics team.

Waymo also isn’t the only company using self-driving trucks to haul cargo. Embark, TuSimple, and Starsky are some of the more high-profile startups working to deploy autonomous trucks on public highways. Established OEMs like Volvo and Daimler are also are racing to develop commercial trucks that can drive themselves.