Drone wings clipped

Lily Robotics decides to shut down for lack of funds

By Author   |   Published: 18th Jan 2017   9:22 am Updated: 8th Feb 2017   7:29 pm
Representational Image

If you’ve been following the evolution of Drones and their features, you’ll most likely know about Lily and it’s campaign. For those of you who don’t; In the summer of 2015, the founders of Lily Robotics, a company based in San Francisco, California, released a very impressive promotional video. The video featured the product they were going to launch – Lily camera drone; a quadcopter with a camera would take your videos and photos by following you around with a tracker. The promotion was super successful, with Lily seeing a whopping $34 million in pre-orders and another $14 million in private funding.

The company had promised the first set of drones to be delivered by February 2016. After pushing the release date back on a couple of occasions, Lily has announced it will be shutting down. Without a single shipment of their promised camera drone. Per the announcement they would refund all pre-orders in the next two weeks. The company claims they were unable to raise enough funding to see the manufacturing and shipping of the first batch of drones.

While speculations have been making rounds since the company pushed back release dates, what comes as a surprise is it’s shutting down without us even seeing a single drone.
The story doesn’t stop here. On the same day as the announcement was made, the San Francisco District Attorney charged the company with false advertising and misleading business practices. Strengthening the case are a few email exchanges between one of the founders and a couple of team members that specifically talk of ‘lying’ publicly about how the promo was shot.

Why was the Lily camera drone appeal so strong? Strictly in terms of features, the drone did not offer anything revolutionary except for the throw and use part. What did the trick was the awesome promotional video that showed using the drone as simple as Switch On, Throw. and Record. The other appealing feature was the ‘tracker’; this small-ish device you could carry around in your pocket that would guide your drone in following you. Most available drones are seemingly complicated to maneuver and operate at some level and this exactly where Lily got it’s positioning right. The team made its use so simple that forking out $800 for one of them seemed like the best use for money.

So what went wrong?

  • It’s not entirely clear, but for starters the company took too long from the announcement to actual production: since Lily was announced in 2015 a few other products like Hover were launched, while other existing products like Phantom and Mavic added autonomous flight mode features.
  • Scarce Funding. While this is the main reason cited, one must remember that they raised $15 million in private funding, in addition to the $34 Million in pre-orders. What is unclear is that the company seems to have money, since they promised a refund within 2 weeks.
  • Technology. This is pure speculation, but Lily Robotics was having beta testing as late as November last year with a tentative release date of early 2017. Why then, did they decide to suddenly pull the plug. Perhaps some bit of technology or production did not come together as well as they had hoped and advertised it would?

The story is still unfolding and it remains to be seen how the case registered against them will play out. In case they are found guilty penalties can run high. Whatever be the reasons, it is always a little sad to see a product that could have been innovative and exciting close shop, or as in this case not fly.