The zany world of Zano’s record-breaking Kickstarter

16 Nov 2015

A glow in the dark Zano drone, via Kickstarter

Crowdfunding can be such an innovative, reactive, inclusive and collaborative space. But, what happens when too many people want what too few people can’t deliver?

That seems to be the case for backers of Zano, a micro-drone that had a remarkably successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.

What’s Zano? It’s a tiny drone that you control from your smartphone through an app. The idea is great, it’s basically a little camera man to fly around you while you’re out camping or walking the dog. It has special obstacle avoidance software too.

Last January, Torquing Group’s campaign closed at £2.3m, making Zano the most successful European Kickstarter project ever.

Around 13,000 drones were ordered from a company that, with a small workforce, seemed to walk into obstacles from the get-go. So much for that avoidance software.

Videos of the drones in action have been released, with the office testing the majority of what’s on offer by the looks of things.

During the summer, Arstechnica and BBC each got a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing facility in Wales where the drones are being made but, each time, there was no fully operational product available.

Now in November, six months after shipping was originally planned, there’s still huge problems. Some drones have been delivered, but not all have been well received.

Worse still, Ivan Reedman, the engineer behind Torquing Group’s optimistic plan, stepped down last week.

“My resignation is due to personal health issues and irreconcilable differences,” he said in a statement to the Zano forum, which is now, quite fittingly, down ’due to a network hardware failure’.

“To say I am devastated pales when compared to what I am feeling,” he said.

That leaves 12,075 backers left wondering what they spent their money on. There has already been a campaign to seek reimbursement from the company.

Its last Kickstarter update was a month ago, with what seems to be a fairly frank and open production timeline, however, with such flux in the past few days, even that is now called into question.

The company’s Twitter account has, at least, been active this month, telling worried customers and backers that a new forum is being worked on at the minute – although that update was on 3 November.

It also, rather unhelpfully, has a pinned tweet calling for pre-orders of its drone from back in January.

We’ve reached out to both Torquing Group and Kickstarter for comment on what is going on, with the latter’s role presumably very low and the former’s, presumably, very frantic.

One thing we do know, the Zano is very noisy.

Update on 17 November, 9.30am: Kickstarter got back to us highlighting the  rules it sets for campaigns. Firstly projects must create something, with the creator, at some stage, able to say, “it’s finished, here’s what we made. Enjoy!”.

Second the project must be honest and clearly presented. When the plan is to manufacture and distribute something “complex” Kickstarter needs projects to show a prototype of what they’re making, with doctored renderings prohibited.

“Creators who want to make and distribute hardware must include a demo of a working prototype on their project page,” explains a Kickstarter spokesperson.

“Basically we’d want you to show backers that the prototype can perform the core functions of the device that you are trying to build.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic