Patent troll kills Mycroft AI voice assistant

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A green goblin attacking a radio with speakers.

Artificial intelligence has been revolutionizing technology and improving our everyday lives. With AI-powered voice assistants, we can control our smart home using just our voice, making tasks simpler, and more efficient. However, not all AI assistants have been successful in the market, as evidenced by the recent discontinuation of the Mycroft AI voice assistant.

What is the Mycroft AI voice assistant?

Mycroft is an open-source AI assistant that provides a more private and customizable alternative to other voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. It uses natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to understand and respond to user commands in a personalized way. Mycroft's focus on privacy is a unique feature that allows users to keep their data and interactions with the assistant local and not stored in the cloud, making it an attractive option for those concerned about data privacy and security.

Mycroft's open-source software is versatile and can run on a variety of devices, including computers, cars, and low-power Raspberry Pis. The company's flexibility and customization options make it popular with individual users and businesses. Mycroft only collects data from users who opt-in, and this data is made public for open-source development. The open-source approach of Mycroft allows for customization and the potential for broader use cases. However, the complexity of open-source voice assistants like Mycroft limits their mainstream appeal when compared to user-friendly voice assistants packaged with popular hardware.

The front side of the Mycroft AI Mark II. A smart speaker with a display and camera.

Mycroft AI's Mark II smart speaker aimed to bridge this gap, offering a privacy-first, open-source smart hardware solution. Despite its appeal, the company's recent difficulties have left many early supporters disappointed and upset.

Hardware used in the Mycroft AI Mark II

The Mark II is Mycroft AI's attempt at making a refined smart speaker to rival the Nest Hub and Echo Show. It features a 4.3″ IPS wide-viewing angle, full colour, touchscreen, and dual 5 W 1.5″ drivers. It is powered by a quad-core Cortex-A72 (1.5GHz) system-on-chip and connects to your network using either Wi-Fi or a wired connection.

The back side of the Mycroft AI Mark II. Visible are a number of USB ports and an Ethernet jack.

Launched as a Kickstarter

Mycroft AI launched its Mark II smart speaker through a Kickstarter campaign, which proved to be hugely successful. The campaign garnered the support of 2,245 backers and raised over $394,000, exceeding its initial goal of $50,000 by a significant margin. However, it remains unclear how many of the backers actually received a Mark II speaker.

The company has faced criticism from disappointed and upset backers, ⁣ who have left comments on the Kickstarter page expressing their frustration over the situation. Some have lamented the apparent death of hardware crowdsourcing, while others have pleaded for their product or accused the company of scamming them. In an effort to help the company push through its challenges, some backers have even offered suggestions, such as the idea of assembling the product themselves.

Despite the challenges and criticism, the success of the Kickstarter campaign demonstrates the initial excitement and interest in Mycroft AI and its vision for open source artificial intelligence.

The front side of the Mycroft AI Mark II. A smart speaker with a display and camera.

The Downfall of Mycroft AI

Mycroft AI faced various challenges that are typical for a startup, including struggling to find hardware partners. This led the company to utilize off-the-shelf components instead. One of the main downsides of off-the-shelf components is that they may not be perfectly tailored to the specific needs of a particular project. This can lead to issues such as compatibility problems, suboptimal performance, and limitations in functionality. The COVID-era supply chain disruptions added to the list of complications by causing unforeseen issues such as increasing costs that Mycroft AI had to navigate.

In late November 2022, shortly after the Mark II had entered production, the CEO of Mycroft AI was confronted with the harsh reality of having to lay off most of the company's staff. Currently, the company has only two developers, one customer service agent, and one attorney on its team. Without an infusion of new capital, Mycroft AI is facing the prospect of having to halt development by the end of the month. This situation has put the future of the company in jeopardy, and its leadership is actively seeking new investment and support to continue their work.

Without a patent troll, Mycroft wouldn't be on death's doorstep

However, Lewis claims that what ultimately led to the demise of the company and its product were the expenses associated with ongoing litigation. In 2020, Mycroft AI was hit with a lawsuit for patent infringement by what was described as a “patent troll”. Although the company, Voice Tech Corporation, eventually dropped the lawsuit, the damage had already been done, and the legal battle had taken a significant toll on the startup. As Lewis explained, “If we had that million dollars, we would be in a much better position right now.”

In the end, the combination of the costs related to litigation and the challenges in finding hardware partners, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, proved too much for the company to overcome.

What next for Mycroft AI?

Currently, Mycroft is only selling its remaining Mark II devices through its website. Backers who missed out on receiving the device through the Kickstarter campaign can purchase it from the website for $349, which is a discount from the $499 MSRP when using a coupon code. However, this is still a significant increase from the original pledge price of $129, with the cost now being 171 percent more than the original price. Mycroft's open-source software and hardware remains available on GitHub, and will surely be reused in future projects.

A portrait photo oif Liam Alexander Colman, the author, creator, and owner of Home Assistant Guide wearing a suit.

About Liam Alexander Colman

is an experienced Home Assistant user who has been utilizing the platform for a variety of projects over an extended period. His journey began with a Raspberry Pi, which quickly grew to three Raspberry Pis and eventually a full-fledged server. Liam's current operating system of choice is Unraid, with Home Assistant comfortably running in a Docker container.
With a deep understanding of the intricacies of Home Assistant, Liam has an impressive setup, consisting of various Zigbee devices, and seamless integrations with existing products such as his Android TV box. For those interested in learning more about Liam's experience with Home Assistant, he shares his insights on how he first started using the platform and his subsequent journey.

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