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The Sad Tale of the Lily Drone

Drones have promised us a lot. Or more accurately, we’ve demanded a lot from drones. Once the ball was rolling with accessible consumer drones feature fever set in. Mostly this was camera fetishism, however autonomy was another key feature. Being followed around by your own flying camera appealed to filmmakers and toy fans everywhere. Lily Robotics tried to make this dream a reality, but the Lily drone has flopped rather spectacularly.

In January it emerged Lily Robotics was not going to ship drones that had amassed $34 million in pre-sales for 60,000 units. On the back of $15 million investment from bigwig venture capital firms  the reason for the failure is rather expensive. On the 31st of January law enforcement raided Lily obotics in a “potential criminal investigation“, authorities would later “neither confirm nor deny the existence of a criminal investigation”. What happens next in this video will shock you.

This video from May 12 2015 demonstrated a version flung into the air and gurgling out of water. Able to tread water yet unable to avoid obstacles, i.e. trees and buildings. Meaning you need an expanse of land for your drone film-day. More landscapes, precisely what drone videography needs. Undeniably there is support for this, 60,000 pre-orders; this thing could have been huge. But it doesn’t exist. $49 million in capital for nothing is bad.

Another quandry is the San Francisco District Attorney alleges the footage was not from a Lily drone. That’s a DJI Inspire drone doing the PR work for Lily Robotics. Furthermore no Lily drone was in filming form at the time they did the video. In one section there is film of the Lily from another drone, this is likely the DJI used in the final cut right? So without obstacle navigation and a camera, the Lily drone is a pretty big flop. The company is being charged with misleading business practices and has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy position in the corporate-haven of Delaware.

When or if we find out the errors leading to a $49 million failure is uncertain. In an email to justifiably disappointed pre-orderers Lily Robotics said they were unable to secure the necessary financing for manufacturing and shipping.

Things are really wrapping down, here is the Lily Robotics website on January 12 2017:

Lily Drone wayback archive screenshot

Here is it on the 28th of February:

Lily Drone disappears

Lily drone orders are being refunded

Pre-order customers are being refunded, if a little haphazardly according to reports. Typical bureaucratic difficulties are likely the case here, handling 61,000 refunds will obviously take awhile, especially as they come from over 80 countries. Refunds are obviously the right thing to do. With start up methods and practices permeating in government agencies, the mix between steady business acumen- manufacturing  and shipping are hardly a dull force at the moment. A post-mortem of Lily Robotics as a part of start up culture and internet hype might reveal the decline in the novelty stage and an emphasis on publicising products and start ups with a more refined social purpose.

Imagine a drone abuilt into a phone, you could clip it off the back and set it to fly a few meters above you.



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Mathew Sayer

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