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Cozmo – Open Software Saves the Day

By November 15, 2021 No Comments

When Mycroft was founded, there was a lot of ambiguity about which IoT hub would become universal.  

The folks at Samsung had acquired SmartThings. Google had Nest. But there were also a number of other players out there working to become the center of the connected home.

Among these was a startup in Colorado called Revolv, which made an IoT hub, and was shipping to customers when it was acquired by Google in 2014.  

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What did Google do with the tech?  Who knows.  

What we DO know is what they did with the Revolv devices already on the market: they bricked them.  This left customers in the lurch – as their IoT setups were in many cases dependent on Revolv.  They’d spent hours setting up scenes, automation and devices – and were now being forced to select a new platform.

It didn’t have to be that way.  Revolv could have given their customers the power to maintain their own devices.  How?  By open-sourcing their software.


One of the big advantages of open-source software is that customers are not dependent on vendors for updates, improvements or support.  In fact, one of the reasons the GNU open source movement was founded was that Richard Stallman wanted to maintain his own printer driver – and found that it wasn’t included as part of the software package. (I had similar problems with my awesome circa-2007, Xerox-era printer… which I had to abandon, when they ended support for the operating system).

I tell potential enterprise customers of Mycroft that one of the advantages of working with us is that they get all of the control of open source software – while also being able to benefit from the contributions of a large community.

Recently, I saw another example of how Open Source empowered customers: Cozmo.

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Cozmo is a cute little robot toy that uses computer vision and sophisticated software to present a character to customers.  The character can move little boxes around – and it both learns and responds to its environment.  The company that made Cozmo was originally backed by Andreessen Horowitz and other VCs, who invested hundreds of millions of dollars to support the company in creating and shipping the robots.

But Venture Capital is a powerful drug; despite having premier investors and a great team, Cozmo wasn’t able to provide the type of growth that Silicon Valley needs to sustain a company.  So, it folded.

But, of course, Cozmo’s customers still wanted to use their robots.  And here’s where open source once again plays an important role: Because Cozmo’s founders decided to open-source their software stack, customers were able to keep Cozmo working. They will, eventually, be able to improve and customize the software to do things the original founders never envisioned or intended.

So if you’re in the market for a new product or platform, it may make sense to consider open-source solutions, rather than blindly commit to proprietary approaches.  Though proprietary software may work better in the short term, the inability of customers to access the code – for the completely reasonable purposes of maintaining or extending it – may make it a poor long-term bet.