You may remember the Lily. For a few minutes there, the little drone that could was touted as the next up-and-coming thing to overtake GoPro. It was a great idea: a drone that follows you automatically, dodging obstacles while keeping the subject in the frame. Too good to be true, almost. As it turns out, it was. Now the recently-defunct company is in deep shit.
Here’s what we wrote about the Lily Drone in May of 2015: “How does it work? You throw and go. The camera drone then follows or leads you down the mountain or river or wherever it is you’re going. It even offers a full HD slo-mo option to give your edits the kind of gravity that says you’re doing something epically cool. After you’re done recording your epically cool (20 minutes or under) adventure, it returns to you and lands in your hand. And it knows that you are the owner by way of a tracking advice that comes with a waterproof case. Also, the drone itself is waterproof.” Sound pretty great, doesn’t it? Well, a lot of people thought so.
After a successful crowd-funding campaign that saw a staggering $34 million and 60,000 units in pre-orders, the company announced via email that it had gone belly up, much to the dismay of those who shelled out for it. Just before Christmas in 2016, Lily Robotics found itself in a bad spot. Potential customers were wondering where their money went, and the company had no answer. Well, no good answer, anyway. “We will start shipping US orders late this month until early 2017 and in the order that they were placed,” the company tweeted on Dec. 20th. The shipping, though, never happened. Then, just a few days ago, the company officially folded and is apparently in the process of figuring out how to return the money. Their problems don’t end there, though–they’re getting sued.
According to Forbes, on January 12th, just a day after the closure, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office filed a lawsuit that, in a nutshell, says the company intentionally pulled the wool over customers’ eyes. “The San Francisco District Attorney filed a civil consumer protection suit alleging the company had intentionally lied to potential customers with its launch video, which purported to showcase Lily’s capabilities but was created almost entirely with technology from its rivals,” wrote Ryan Mac and Aaron Tilley in Forbes. “The DA also filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent the company from conducting business, but did allow them to move to refund its customers.”
Customers were rightfully pissed and took to social media to voice their complaints. “I’ve been with you from the beginning – and now everything seems to be dead,” wrote Andy Collins. “No replys, no updates, and you’re website isn’t accepting new orders? Have you just ran off with our money??”[sic]
Business Insider reports that some very shady shit went down behind Lily’s closed doors. According to the lawsuit, the footage used in Lily’s viral video wasn’t actually filmed with a Lily Drone, and that “Lily Robotics did not have ‘a single Lily Camera prototype’ containing the advertised features at the time of filming.”
The DA’s office claims that the footage that everyone watched was taken with a GoPro on a Lily prototype that didn’t actually have the auto-follow feature, which was the main selling point of the entire thing. “I am worried that a lens geek could study our images up close and detect the unique Gopro lens footprint,” Lily CEO Antoine Balaresque allegedly wrote in an email to the man he hired to make the promo video. “But I am just speculating here: I don’t know much about lenses but I think we should be extremely careful if we decide to lie publicly.”
Drones have been a notoriously difficult industry. GoPro, as everyone remembers, recalled its ironically named Karma drone after they began falling out of the sky with no warning. As it turned out, it was a simple fix involving the battery housing, but the damage was done and GoPro felt it in the wallet.
In both cases, it seems to be a function of the market–companies over-promise in their haste to be first out of the gate, then can’t properly deliver. Companies like GoPro, though, have big enough bank accounts that they can weather the storm, but for startups like Lily, it’s a death sentence.