Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

An Unusual Commission, Indeed

Last month, Kickstarter hired Mark Harris to investigate the circumstances around the failure of the most-funded European project in their history: a drone called Zano to be built by a company called Torquing. It’s the evergreen story of a lack of understanding conflicting with the ambition and creeping scope of the product:

On 18 November, the axe fell. Torquing announced via a Kickstarter update that it was entering a creditor’s voluntary liquidation, the UK equivalent roughly of an American “Chapter 7” bankruptcy filing. It appointed a liquidator who would bring its business operations to a close and attempt to sell the company’s remaining assets to pay its outstanding bills. Legal documents show that Torquing had not only burned through the £2.5m from its Kickstarter campaign, it had run up another £1m in debt. It was Kickstarter’s most spectacular flame-out to date.

No more Zanos would be made or sent out. Staff were sent home, and Torquing’s supercomputer was switched off and would be sold for parts. Because the Zano drone checks in over the internet with Torquing’s servers each time it powers up to retrieve calibration data and updates, the few drones in the wild were instantly and permanently grounded, like a dastardly robot army foiled in the last reel of a bad sci-fi film. After an abrupt final post on Kickstarter, Zano’s creators retreated offline and refused to engage with either backers or Kickstarter itself, contrary to the platform’s policies for failed campaigns.

It’s long — Medium estimates a 53 minute read time — but it’s worth spending some time with. Terrific reporting and storytelling make for a compelling autopsy.