Zano - The Kickstarter Drone That Never Took Off

An ambitious one year project, 12,075 backers, over $3million raised through crowdfunding. Zano remains Europe's record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, but in reality the drone never really got off the ground.  

The Zano was a miniature quadcopter from Welsh technology company Torquing Group. Marketing material released for the initial Kickstarter project back in November 2014 claimed that it would be, when shipped in June 2015, a palm-sized drone capable of tracking its operator through a smartphone app, avoiding obstacles, shooting high-definition video and responding to gesture controls.   

In no small part to an impressive marketing video, backers around the world began pitching into the project. In a matter of days they smashed managing director Ivan Reedman's modest target of £125,000 (around $180,000), eventually leaving a small technology company in Wales with over 20 times the investment it had planned for, not to mention thousands of expectant backers counting the days until shipment in June 2015. Everything seemed too good to be true. The crowd had spoken, and faith had been placed in an ambitious drone which promised, for just $210, a piece of kit capable of more than anything else on the market at the time.     

Much blame has been laid at the feet of the initial marketing video, which as a promotional tool certainly did the job of building up the hype around a product still under construction. Since though, its makers have been accused of both dishonesty and exaggeration; you can watch the video for yourself below. 

But in fairness to the original backers, industry heavyweights were also caught up in the hysteria. Kickstarter chose Zano as a featured project on their site, technology publication Engadget had Zano on the shortlist for its best of CES 2015 award, despite it never having flown at the event. Even as late as October 2015, Popular Science chose it as one of its 100 most amazing innovations of 2015.     

On November 18th last year, less than a year after the project had got going, Torquing announced by way of a Kickstarter update that it was entering liquidation - the company was bankrupt. On top of the $3.3million funded through Kickstarter, it owed another $1.5million to creditors. The money had gone, frittered away on ambitious, perhaps naïve developments, plush company cars, production errors and unusable stock. While it's clear that every effort was made to fulfil expectations, a combination of overconfidence, cash-flow problems, blind ambition and a huge increase to the drone's specs as a result of the massive investment led to things spiralling out of control very quickly. 

Where it all began (and ended): The Bridge Innovation Centre on the Pembrokeshire Science & Technology Park, Wales / Mark Harris

Where it all began (and ended): The Bridge Innovation Centre on the Pembrokeshire Science & Technology Park, Wales / Mark Harris

Just 600 people received their drones, but worse was that upon arrival they barely functioned. Reviews of rare drones which were shipped talk of a seemingly built-in kamikaze setting, terrible video quality, no obstacle avoidance and certainly no gesture control. Autonomous flight was also missing.    

Kickstarter have since started their own investigation into what exactly went wrong with the Zano drone. The company receives 5% of all the money raised through its platform, and critics say that more should have been done to control the unprecedented funds released to Torquing. They decided to hire technology journalist Mark Harris, who has written a fascinating, detailed write-up, including comments from former Torquing director Ivan Reedman and Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler. It's well worth a read if you’ve got the time.  

The end result: Only 4 Kickstarter backers received their Zano / Mark Harris

The end result: Only 4 Kickstarter backers received their Zano / Mark Harris

Whilst the Zano project has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many a Kickstarter backer, it also raises questions about the future of crowdfunding, and is one example of why we should be cautious with campaigns which seem too good to be true, especially in the drone industry.  

"We would like to make a sincere apology for the understandable disappointment felt by all of those that have supported the project. We would like to reaffirm the significant efforts made by the board of directors and every employee of the company to try and bring this project to fruition and thank their unwavering commitment over the last 12 months."  - Torquing Group