Numerous drone startups have funded their development from popular Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Others use a combination of Press Releases, Social Media and Marketing to obtain preorders for their machines. This article will take a quick look at many of the most popular such ventures from the past and present.
Running the Gamut – Dreamers, Innovators, DIY’ers and Marketers
Many of the early Crowdsourced drones were simple designs a step up from the toy-grade models which most quadcopter pilots started with. Others were more interesting, such as the B Flying Car, which raised about $200,000 (US) in 2013.
A few raised much more – up to 2+ million dollars (US). These include Airdog, PlexiDrone, Zano (3.4 Million!). MicroDrone and Hexo+.
The developers of these range from one-person firms (B Flying Car) to larger groups of aerospace, electronic and manufacturing experts.
First Rule of Crowdsourcing and Preordering
Before we delve into the results of some of these popular campaigns, it’s worth reminding the public that there are NO guarantees when it comes to these projects. When you fund a crowdsourcing program you are a believer with a certain amount of faith in the project being completed. The drone may end up not being delivered at all – or being delivered in a form which doesn’t meet the claims. It may be years late and not backed by spare parts and/or service. The original maker may stop answering your queries and/or fade into oblivion.
In other words, it’s a gamble. You should never invest any money in these projects that you cannot afford to lose. You are not buying a quadcopter/drone but investing in a dream and project. As with most investments a loss of capital ($$) is possible. On the positive end you get to feel as if you are part of a larger project and may obtain the product at a lower price than it will eventually sell for.
Remember – as regards the crowdsourced models you are a Backer not a Purchaser.
In this article we will take a quick look into some of quadcopter/drone projects which are either crowdsourced or relying on preorders (and therefore consumer faith) to fund their operations.
We have reached out by email to some of these firms. Most of them did not respond to our questions. This article will be updated if and when we receive information from the various companies.
Vantage Robotics (SNAP)
eHang (Ghost Drone)
Pocket Drone – No One Home
The PocketDrone by Androids is one example of a failed Kickstarter project. The company received about a million dollars and actually delivered some of the models (deficient and defective) but ceased operations after they ran out of capital. Here is their statement.
Backers were left with a drone (if lucky – some did not receive) with no parts, service, warranty. In addition, the drone is hardly useable and probably somewhat dangerous due to lack of proper control.
Still – they actually tried…which means the fulfilled their obligation to the backers as well as humanly possible.
Where is my Drone – or my Refund?
DreamQii – the small company that is promoting the PlexiDrone, has stopped responding to and even erased (social media) many of the queries from their backers. They have offered up a number of strange excuses from “we are training customer service staff for the next 2-3 weeks” to “We lost customer addresses and other data – please re-enter them into the new systems we are installing”. Keep in mind this is a small company which is located inside a business incubator at a local college in Toronto.
Although claiming they are ready to ship they have posted no pictures, videos or other proof that they have produced anything. One photo they did post showed a couple (2 or 3) cheap gimbals and FPV kits from a Chinese manufacturer and their caption led one to believe this is stock for their initial shipment(s)!
The company reportedly has promised refunds and/or partial refunds to some customers.
A few of customers have also reported receiving full or partial refunds.
Something about this one doesn’t smell right. Deliveries were promised for September, 2015 – which has now come and gone. Instead of delivering an update they are spending their time misleading customers with hints about the superiority of their designs and working on marketing videos – which do not show the product!
At best they are doing a terrible job on the business and customer service end of things. At worst….well…many people may be out of luck when it comes to getting their objects of desire.
Our advice for this one is STAY AWAY due to their lack of proper customer communication and over-the-top hype. If you’ve already given them money it may be worthwhile to attempt to retrieve it through paypal or your cc company.
Delivered from a One-Man Show
Against the odds, the gentleman who came up with the B Flying Car actually delivered on his promises. Although lightly funded and a one-man operation, he persisted and designed and produced his flying/rolling machine. However, as with all such (usually Chinese) production, he had quality control problems and so had to give up on his initial vendor. Now parts are difficult to obtain and the model is no longer in production.
He is now creating another model – this one with treads.
I have to give this guy an A for Effort and Honesty. At the same time the original model is more of a collector’s item than a working model due to being discontinued.
One company crowdsourced their “amazing nano drone” – which currently sells for only $28.
Problem is – the same exact nano quadcopter (it’s a Cheerson CX-10) sells for less than that price everywhere else! So – in this case it appears you are overpaying for something in advance to finance a dude who is not making them…just buying them wholesale. Not exactly innovation!
Two crowdsourced models which promise the ultimate in “follow-me” operation are poised to hit the market relatively soon. Hexo+ (squadrone systems) and Airdog both have raised millions of dollars in both crowdsourcing and later investments. Both models have been in serious development for well over a year and are showing working demos as of the fall of 2015.
These models are designed for close-in work using an app on your smartphone. They use the GPS in your phone as well as that in the machine to keep the drone at a set distance from you as you are biking, surfing, etc. and attempt to keep you in the shot.
Both models are in a similar price range – expect to spend approx. $1900 for the drone and a GoPro as well as a couple spare batteries and propellers.
These Drones seem to be made for action sports have limited range – Hexo+ claims up to 200 feet from the rider (operator). These are purpose-built machines as opposed to being more general AP (aerial photography) models such as the DJI Phantom 3.
Airdog has claimed they shipped “beta” models to testers outside the USA and are awaiting FCC approval before they ship to USA testers.
The web site mentioned December 2015 for actual deliveries. Using past history as a guide, this means you are unlikely to see deliveries of full production Airdogs until 2016.
New buyer should consider this in addition to the usual caveats. The company is located in Latvia.
Hexo+ claims shipping in September of 2015.
We reached out to the company and they claim that pre-production units have been built and are being tested and flown by some of the early backers.
FCC approval (USA) has been received which is also a good sign. Hexo+ plans to produce and ship approx. 3,000 units in 2015, but as always there can be delays in the final weeks before true mass production. In fact, Hexo is current (mid-October) admitting that each step is taking them much longer than they anticipated. As with all the others if you need a model to fly NOW or need to have it for a holiday or other gift, buy something which is already produced and in stock.
Hexo+ has reserved a booth at CES (Consumer Electronic Show) – such efforts are expensive and it’s unlikely they would participate if they were not planning on delivering in quantity. They have also opened US offices in California to serve what I would assume will be their biggest market.
Zano is another small model which appears to be in the “selfie” part of the business. They received and spent millions and are, like many other companies, finding that designing consumer drones is harder than imagined.
As of November, 2015 Zano has filed for bankruptcy – meaning that most of the backers will likely see nothing for their $$$.
This article makes no claim to being the end-all of information about kickstarter, pre-order or crowdsourced drones…rather it is a quick look at an industry which has raised many millions of dollars and has yet to deliver anything groundbreaking. That said, here is a very quick take and notes on some of the other efforts.
EHang (Ghost) – this effort was actually successful and the company has now obtained other financial backing and has come out with newer and improved models.
SplashDrone (water resistant) – is another company that actually delivered their drone. However, they are having the typical teething problems of any such venture.
Sprite – This is an innovative model with yet another take on selfies. The company looks serious about delivering – and this is one of those models I would love to test and fly. They claim deliveries will start in 2016.
Lilly – Yet another model which is best suited for selfies (close-in) work – this model is a dedicated “follow me” flying camera that claims a number of advanced features. The company looks legit – however the technical hurdles between what they promise and what they may find themselves able to deliver could be vast (IMHO). They are also promising shipping for mid-2016 for new orders.
Vantage Robotics “Snap” – is a different take on quadcopters. It is designed for safety and lightweight…these design features address many of the potential problems of modern camera drones. This is yet another model that I would love to own and fly as it provides more stealth than many larger quadcopters.
There is no doubt, however, that this team will also learn the hard way about the difficulty of producing a consumer product (and consumer products company) from scratch. Their location in Silicon Valley (area) as well as their employees who understand advanced robotics should help the effort along.
Over the past two years drones have become a buzzword – and one which can be used easily to raise money. This is true whether the amounts raised are 1 million for a kickstarter campaign or 100+ million to finance a new project like the 3DR Solo (which appears to be having trouble also!).
Most of the crowdsource and pre-order drones we studied appear to be sincere in that they truly think they can deliver as promised. However, that has rarely been the case. Even when units were delivered as promised (SpashDrone, Pocket Drone, B Flying Car, etc.) there were often problems with quality control, parts and service. On the other side of the equation the early orders often obtained a better initial price for their trouble as well as bragging rights.
It’s our opinion that consumers who actually want to fly (now or soon) should steer away from crowdsourcing and preordering and purchase proven models from well known manufacturers. The odds in the business and startup world indicate that most new companies will fail – this is even more true in the highly technical world of drones.
To those who who wish to invest in crowdsourcing and pre-orders we have the following words of advice:
1. Do not spend any money you cannot afford to lose – it is unlikely that you will be able to recover money from a failed effort after about 30-60 following your expenditure (sometimes credit cards and paypal and even the drone companies will refund within a certain time frame).
2. If the product(s) are delivered as promised you will still have to be patient as the first production runs of complex drones are never perfect. In many cases the models will not live up to marketing hype as it is much cheaper to make great promo videos than to design great aerial robotics.
While we understand the pull of being in on the ground floor we simply can’t suggest that end users throw money at these efforts – UNLESS THEY GO IN WITH OPEN EYES. There are many people who enjoy watching a product come to fruition and communicating with the designers and founders. Sometimes, as they say, the journey is the reward. If this is your impetus please don’t let our opinion and/or the facts sway you. Innovators are often dreamers and you may enjoy participating in the dream.
Bottom line – if you want to fly, buy a mature product available off the shelf. If you want to dream and enjoy the process of innovation and invention, then find yourself a startup drone company which meets your fancy and help them achieve their goals.
Here at Droneflyers.com we are practical and frugal with both your money and ours. We won’t be backing any of these projects. However, we do invest Venture Capital in the drone industry to do our part in helping this fledging industry.