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Creator of Linux virtual assistant blames 'patent troll' for project's death

Kickstarter backers left empty-handed

Mycroft AI, creator of a Linux-based virtual assistant, announced on Friday it would not be able to fulfill rewards for its Mark II Kickstarter campaign.

Furthermore, without immediate new investment, the company will be forced to cease development by the end of the month, said the company's CEO Michael Lewis [although the post is attributed to former CEO Joshua Montgomery due to Kickstarter not allowing multiple authors – ed.].

"We will still be shipping all orders that are made through the Mycroft website, because these sales directly cover the costs of producing and shipping the products," confirmed Lewis.

He said the company was now at bare-bones employee count: layoffs had reduced the staff down to two developers, one customer service agent and one attorney.

Lewis said he had "poured a lot of [his] own savings, and additional funding from [his] foundation into Mycroft" but the company was running out of cash.

Mycroft AI experienced many challenges one would expect to encounter at a startup, such as difficulty finding hardware partners, which forced it to resort to off-the-shelf parts. Less predictable problems that arose were rising costs from the hellscape that was COVID-era supply chain disruptions.

Mycroft AI ended up spending more time than intended on the Mark II hardware, and the move became expensive and detracted software, which was what the company actually wanted to focus on, said Lewis.

But what truly killed the company and product, he claimed, were expenses related to ongoing litigation.

In 2020, Mycroft AI was sued for patent infringement from what it labeled a "patent troll."

The company suing Mycroft AI, Voice Tech Corporation, dropped its litigation, but not before costing the startup deeply.

"If we had that million dollars we would be in a very different state right now," said Lewis.

Billed as an "open answer" to Amazon Echo and Google Home but with data privacy, the Mark II went from costing $99 in components each to $300. That total doesn't include the costs of spending $100,000 on injection molds.

The product currently sells on the company's website for $499.

The Kickstarter campaign brought in 2,245 backers for the smart speaker and raised over $394,000. The goal had been set at a mere $50,000. It's uncertain how many backers received a Mark II.

Backers have left disappointed and upset responses on its Kickstarter page – some mourning the death of hardware crowdsourcing, some pleading for their product, some alleging scam, and others urging the company to push through.

"Send us the components to assemble the pieces ourselves if that's the outstanding problem at this point," offered one Kickstarter supporter. "Why can't we make it into a group project to assemble MyCroft II in our homes?"

"I don't mind that I don't get my Mark II: the bigger goal of open source artificial intelligence was more important to me," said another. ®

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