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  • And, predictably, they officially folded. The Zano is now officially dead, 12K people (plus probably another 2-5K preorders lost their money (it hurts to see that some people backed Zano with 3 or even 4 units, some people have lost more than $1k). More than $4M down the drain

  • Well, just as we were doubting all, my 10 Trackr's arrived in the mail today!

    Nice little piece of tech - it's another story as to whether it is good for much. The range appears to be very short, but that could also be my iphone 5 to some degree...

    The trackr appears to be a fully finished consumer product - packaging, instructions, etc.

    So at least I give some kudos to them for trying!

  • Developer

    The original idea behind Kickstarter was to be a venue for artists. Meaning low risk, low cost projects making comics, albums etc. Just look at the Kickstarter category list and you see where the focus is.

    It's mostly the technology category that are problematic since the projects are high cost, high risk.

  • kick starter is nothing but a stage for snake oil sellers.

    I don't see its success in a couple more years.

    I don't like buyers remorse and especially the BS promises. I'm not alone in this. and I really don't care about a useless button or the very small shirt that comes with being a backer.

    just my opinion.

    B.T.W. thank you to all the developers and programmers,  that have made the pixhawk what it is today... The Best Damn FC available to date.

  • Almost by definition, drones on KS are to be avoided. As many other people have said, drones are hard, but also a good business. Pretty much any competent team that can deliver a drone will have no problems finding real VC money and VC support (critical in certain areas). Even so, VC investments frequently fail. The only people who are forced to raise money on KS are the ones that have been turned down by everyone else. Their chances of success are just about zero (and proven over and over again by all the failures). It’s a bit like that Grouch Marx quote about clubs: I don’t want to invest in a drone that accepts me as an investor :)


    Reading backer's expectations on KS and the Zano forums also make it very clear that there are a lot of completely inexperienced people who don't even know a CX-20, Phantom or smaller quads exist (let alone their prices and performance), and "suck it up" any marketing video. I had countless discussions with backers of various projects, and none of them even wants to listen to things like battery life, stabilized video, propellers efficiency, etc.


    The Zano is a disaster from an HW point of view: way too heavy, too small (the current propellers touch, since with the right size propellers they would not even get enough lift), it's a sandwich of 3 motherboards with a ton of connectors and soldered modules (there must be 10g of solder on that thing). They use a direct drive brushed design on a $300 drone, not telling people how short the life of those motors is. The arms are part of the main motherboard, and any hard landing required a complete main motherboard replacement (probably 75% of the cost of a Zano). They have the wrong sensors (like a sonar for obstacle avoidance, the same device that causes the "bunny hops" due to false detection (takes off, sense an obstacle, aborts). The barometer is not shielded, causing problems. They carry a super-heavy (and useless) LED billboard. The CPU is completely underpowered, to the point that just handling the 5MP camera video stream uses 80% of the available processing power (can't even write files to the memory card). No reason to use a 5MP sensor in that form factor, btw, or with those lenses. And that's the most obvious part, I'm sure there's more


    The software is a disaster: since they decided to use an underpowered CPU, they also decided to code in assembler. Even worse, they decided to write from scratch everything, including well known functions (they said they could optimize even more). They have their own OS, low level math routines, etc. Not just the flight control part, mind you: basic math functions have been reimplemented. They decided to post-process all videos in house, to remove shakes and vibrations (since a 5MP camera on a jumpy tiny quad creates horrible videos). For that, they bought a high end HPC cluster the is eating 24k GBP per year in power (let alone the cost of the cluster itself)


    The device was supposed to be ready by the time they had the KS campaign. In late 2014 they were super confident that they could ship early units in January 2015 (i.e. they made everyone believe that is was basically ready, just a bit of fit and finish work remaining). In late 2015 still doesn’t even fly (too busy writing low level math to test that the sonar was not working, and the device too heavy for the arm size/propellers). Even without having flying devices, they decided to mass produce thousands of units (running out of money, they had to send something to preorders, since PayPal had blocked the preorder money until the device was delivered)


    Anyone who has ever worked on a software or hardware project will have, at this point, identified at least 10 huge red flags that make is super clear that the team behind the Zano was completely out of their league, and making many rookie mistakes


    Rob: I agree that designing quads is hard, but Torquing Group was not even trying to be in the league that you talk about. They were more ambitious, but as unprepared as the Pocket Drone guys


  • Kickstarter has been quite successful on some products, both for the builders and for the backers.

    Unfortunately they are the exception and trying to offer a middle of the road consumer multicopter (or coax thing) with video is as Rob says already a market occupied by big bucks successful Companies.

    No Chance.

    There are still a lot of opportunities for small business's and even startups, but mostly ones offering specialized products like FPV quadcopter racing frames for instance.

    These guys aren't making a fortune, but they are arguably making a few bucks and they aren't on Kick-starter.

    Kickstarter is a tricky venue, possibly a good example for success could be Blue Robotics, the ROV thruster guys.

    A nice small vertical market that desperately needed a competent thruster as it's core component.

    They designed it, got funded, built it and managed to make a nice business out of it.

    Maybe the most important aspect of a Kick starter project to look for is that it appeals to a distinctly limited segment of the population rather than most of it.

    At the true consumer end the big guys will always outgun you.

    And by the time you get your Kickstarter next big thing ready to deliver they will have already driven over the top of you.

    I can tell you this, if the 9 ounce FAA registration cutoff comes back into play little helicopters will be coming back, a lot easier to make a 250 gram video capable helicopter than a quadcopter.

    However, don't go running over to Kickstarter with it.

    (Also, agree with Rob Sony has by far the best SportCam stabilization technology, check out their AS1000V and even newer AS2000V which have even more improved stabilization built in and 4K.

    They also have some new smaller ones.)



  • The comparison to Cheerson and HK's quads in an interesting one.  That is a good indication of the business case for making shells and stuffing them with standard components.  They paid nothing for development of any system other than the shell.  Their cost for development of the flight control hardware and software is very close to zero.  They use off-the-shelf motors that aren't particularly efficient, and the same standard junky ESC's with amateur firmware that are on the hobby market.

    DJI really isn't spending that much on development of the flight system either.  They haven't offered a single new flight capability for... 2 years?  What have they got?  Basic stick inputs, maybe with IOC and RTH.  Stuff that was invented 5+ years ago by Microkopter.  Where is their follow me?  Return to me?  Smooth waypoints? (heck, where are waypoints at all?!) Cable Cam.  Selfie Mode.

    They've foisted all that development cost off onto 3rd party app developers.

    3DR is the only manufacturer actually funding flight control development and baking it right into their RTF system. 

    So if it costs $200 to assemble a basic quad.  And XioaMe has demonstrated you can build a camera for about $100.  And you can build a gimbal for about $100.  I don't even know if the P3 standard is being sold at a loss, and the P3 Professional is just profit.

    DJI is really only leading one aspect of this market.  Their gimbals work very well. And they took control of the camera system and delivered what the market wants: No Fisheye! And remote control. When you're marketing a "flying camera", this part of it is very important. 

    This is why I'd love to see somebody like Sony take a stab at this market.  They have the resources, and the camera capability.  They even have some experience in the gimbal market with the BOSS system on their camcorders, and the best (only?) electronic image stabilization in the sports-cam market.  It can make even bad gimbals look good.   This is what's so frustrating with their current action cams.  They are SO much better than GoPro.  By a country mile.  Did you know that right now, today, I could stick my AS100V on a drone, and live-stream video directly to the internet and broadcast it?  Today.  Right now. And it actually works. 

    I toyed with the idea last winter actually, of sticking the camera on a Rover.  I could actually have Tridge, drive a Rover in Canada, from Australia. Live.  Today. Think about that.

    Sony is the sleeping giant in this market, IMO.

  • 10 Million doesn't seem like enough - but I guess we will get a taste of that when GoPro comes out with their model. Since they've put a year+ into it and know what they have to compete with, I think they spent a lot more than 10...

    5-10 may be enough to create something - but at this point any real player needs something equal to or better than DJI in that particular market - then they need to market, sell, finance, build inventory, create a customer service department, etc.

    No one knows how much profit DJI makes but we can guess based on some known quantities. For example, Cheerson and HK make a profit when they sell their basically similar APM quad for $200 (no cam or gimbal, of course). 

    DJI is selling more Pro models than standards or advanced - and also selling a lot of Inspires. That allows for a loss leader on the Standard (or small profit).

    As Rob says they have decided they want to be the Ford or Apple (big first mover and integrated) in this space. Anyone looking to take a % of those sales needs to have something at least 1/2 as good (Yuneec, etc. are making sales with a model which has lower specs). 

    The entire landscape would be different if DJI wasn't executing with the relative skill that they have been. Then we'd have room for a dozen players to shoot it out.

    I don't think a lot of APM kickstarters are going to make it (Plexi, Hexo+, Airdog, etc.) - so much time has gone by since they started that I wonder if the world has passed them by. Still, starting with some software and hardware that works at least got (some of( them flying.

    Also, how many "follow and watch me" copters is there really a market for? Not many, IMHO. 

    It's time for more killer apps - in the consumer market that's likely to be obstacle avoidance and improved AI. 

    At first I thought GoPro was going to be the next one to step into the ring with DJI. I'm starting to doubt that prediction.

  • +1 Well said Rob.

    I am also astonished when an upstart drone company does not leverage Arducopter. I too, assume in that case, that they will fail.

    The other thing that gets me is that often times these KS drones are advertising existing technology as new innovation, and people buy into it. For example, Hexo+ and Airdog make it seem like they are the only ones to do follow me, which all APM powered machines can do (both are APM powered, after all). 

    It screams at me that the general public has a poor perception of the capabilities of the existing drones on the market. I think it is a opportunity for the established companies (DJI and 3DR) to better advertise what their ready to buy quads can already do. I think most of the general public would be really impressed!

  • Drones Are Hard (tm)

    I think the problem is that lots of techies seem to assume that drones are basically a "solved problem", and they can easily create a basic quadcopter, and then just add cool new software features.

    But what they don't realize is that drones are NOT anywhere near a solved problem. They are complex electro-mechanical assemblies.  Not even their components are perfected yet.  We still have issues with every new controller, even if it's a derivative of a previous design.  Many ESC's on the market still don't work right, with really amateur firmware. And I think many experienced programmers are foiled by the real-time control algorithms needed to fly a quadcopter.  Plus there are laws of physics that must be obeyed, that many computer programmers lack understanding of. This is not like programming a game, where you get to make up the rules.  And lets not forget the difficulty of utilizing the data coming from our cheap sensors being blasted with noise and vibration.

    Basically, whenever I see a new project starting which is not intending on using an existing software/hardware ecosystem <cough>Arducopter<cough> I pretty much peg it as doomed to failure.  It's not just bias and arrogance behind that statement.  It's because to me, it's an indication they have completely underestimated the difficulty of doing this.  Anybody going into this from scratch, would have to be insane to not take advantage of the work that has already been done in this space.

    And finally, building a quadcopter is not like building the latest naked circuit board. The current generation of plastic monocoque quadcopter shells are VERY difficult to engineer and very expensive in tooling.  Back in the day of 2nd Generation frames (cut carbon fiber tubing and plate and CNC machined fittings, all screwed together. eg: current Tarot frames) it was much easier.  Tooling costs were low, and it was quick to iterate. Even 3rd gen frames using molded plastic sub-assemblies (Iris, Flamewheel) wasn't too bad.

    But the problem is, 4th generation, where you have two large molds, it takes a lot of skill to do that.  If you get your first parts off the tool, and discover that you made a mistake in your FEA, you just wasted a lot of money.  And yet, you HAVE to use plastic monocoque construction, to be competitive today.  At least as far as consumer drones are required.  Nobody in the consumer RTF market wants to buy a 2nd gen quadcopter anymore. They all want styled shells with smilie faces.

    In short, it takes WAY more than the $1-2M raised by typical KS project, to jump into the consumer RTF market.  And that's development cost, NOT total sales revenue.  You'd need to sink something like $10M into development, then start generating sales.  And with DJI flooding the market with millions of quads sold for little more than the raw materials costs, having funded development long ago, I'm not really sure how any new players can think they're just going to jump in at this point.  Even companies like 3DR, Yuneec, Horizon Hobby, etc who have been playing in this space for a long time,  find it difficult to best DJI.  DJI has decided they want to own the entire market, and have set pricing levels so low, it's impossible for startups to compete.

    It's really not like the automotive sector 100 years ago.  It's like... if Ford had invented the Model T in 1890. If that had been the case, we wouldn't even have the 10 companies we have now.

    It doesn't have to be that we'll have an Oligopoly in this market.  But it's going to take BIG MONEY from somebody like Sony or Honda.  Or Google, Microsoft, etc.  Or Elon Musk.  Big money to drop $10M in investment.  And they're going to have to have a team of people who have been around the block already.  You can't hire a bunch of people fresh out of school, or maybe people with experience producing computers or cameras.  While they struggle to catch up with existing drone technology, the state of the art will be advancing at lightning speed. 

    It's not going to happen from a Kickstarter Campaign. 

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