The sad saga of the Lily Camera has hit another twist.
Earlier this week, after some prompting from drone journalist Ash Ha and his website – and apparently some legal pressure – Lily told its customers the company was folding. Some 60,000 people had placed pre-orders totaling about $34 million US, and the company promised they would get their money back.
Now, however, more details are emerging. And they are not as cute as the proposed drone was.
c|net reports the San Francisco District Attorney office warned Lily on Wednesday, January 11 – one day before it shut its doors – to communicate with its customers. The following day, it writes, the San Francisco Superior Court issued an order demanding repayment of the $34m distributed to Lily’s customers.
“Prosecutors accuse the company of false advertising,” reads the court document quoted by c|net. “This includes misleading customers with a promotional video whose images were not taken by a Lily drone but instead a much more expensive camera drone requiring two people to operate instead of one.”
That drone was said to be a DJI Inspire.
Ash Ha not only reports on and reviews drones but also acts as a consumer advocate – an anomaly in this field. He’s had concerns about the project and its technical feasibility from day one.
“I have stated from the outset that the promo video was faked,” Ash tells TDC.
It was, of course, the video that grabbed all the attention and sparked all the orders. Note the crystal-clear and highly accurate tracking shots, which purportedly were proof of Lily’s intelligent features, digitally stabilized gimbal, and a high-quality camera.
Ash had some questions about that promotional video, so he messaged Lily directly. Take a look at the exchange:
Check out the dates. Ash Ha was asking this in 2015.
For backers, one of the appealing aspects of the Lily project was the company’s pledge to keep their funds segregated from the $14-15 million in venture capital that had been raised separately to help get the Lily into production. At any point, the company always said, people with pre-orders could ask for their money back.
What was there to lose? A drone with features that, back then, appeared ahead of their time? Plus, guaranteed refunds? People signed up in droves. But there were other people, skeptics with legitimate questions:
Time dragged on – and the updates offered to those with pre-orders began to slow down. Some people started asking for their money back, either directly through Lily or through TILT – the firm that was keeping the pre-order funds separate from Lily’s day-to-day operational funds.
c|net quotes a statement from the office of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón:
“It does not matter if a company is established, or if it is a startup, everyone in the market must follow the rules. By protecting consumers, we protect confidence in our system of commerce.”
In its initial reporting of the story, TDC expressed regret over the company folding but applauded the firm’s commitment to getting back refunds to all backers.
Let’s hope that actually happens.
“The failure of recent projects such as Pocket Drone, Zano and now Lily must serve as education for customers,” write Ash. “Do not part with your hard-earned cash and instead let the dreams be pursued by venture capital organizations as they can afford to lose the investment, while most customers cannot.
“As a new drone customer,” he continues, “buy your products off the shelf and choose trusted manufacturers who have proven themselves, evolved their product and software, and have delivered in the past.”
And remember that old maxim: If something looks too good to be true – it probably isn’t.
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