A Crowdfund Campaign Review: The Gladius
At Peerfunder I monitor and review a lot of crowdfund campaigns. Today an interesting crowdfund popped up on Indiegogo’s official twitter feed advertising a new submersible drone that you can control with your phone to take underwater video.
Named the Gladius, the prototype looks to be of excellent construction and has already been shown off to a couple of tech review websites. With an endorsement from Indiegogo and a bit of media buzz, we decided to dive into the campaign page and take a look. Our findings are not positive for the underwater drone.
Examining the video and marketing materials:
First and foremost, there is a working prototype that has two videos showing off a depth dive and underwater action. While the camera shown isn’t 4k, the company stated that 4k video is forthcoming, although it is odd that it isn’t available at the time of the crowdfund campaign launch.
Build-wise, this is perhaps one of the sleekest underwater drones I have seen, but lacks a lot of video documentation on its capabilities. There is ample photography of the drone, its controller than your phone snaps into, and it looks good. What was most disturbing, however, was that in their crowdfunding campaign video they used either CGI or an image overlay instead of filming their actual drone in action. Additionally, the video that did show the drone underwater was in a pool, where the drone was not subject to ocean or lake conditions.
Another missed opportunity was not using their drone to film another drone in action. This is almost standard practice for a lot of drone companies. When shopping for a drone, underwater or above, you should really look for exhaustive media showing off the product by the product. For comparison, the company BlueROV2 has does done a much better job showing off their underwater drone. These are concerning choices made by the marketing team, and should make a backer hesitant and ready to investigate a little further.
A look at the campaign:
Beyond examining the drone and the crowdfund video, we can look to key markers on the crowdfund page to help guide any purchasing decisions. Crowdfunds, in general, tend to be cumulative, hype based affairs, so having the momentum of 325 backers for almost 300,000 dollars seems like a great start. However, what any potential backer should do is a quick examination of the rewards and current backing rates compared to total raised and number of total backers. Doing that, we come to a very strange conclusion. Only 17 (as of 27th of April) rewards have been claimed. That means over 300 backers have not claimed a reward, and barely over a dozen Gladius have been bought. With such a large amount raised, and total rewards limited to 50, some warning bells should be going off for any potential backer.
The next easy step that we take to examine a campaign is comparing products or parts to current technology and prices. In the case of an underwater drone, current drones that you can buy from a retailer (not crowdfunded) run in the multiple thousands. The price point of the Gladius starts at under a thousand, with a claimed total value of 1700. A similarly equipped drone from BlueRobotics would cost you at least four grand for a 1080p camera.
Honing down on the parts, we see that 4k cameras start at around a thousand dollars and go up. Adding on the technology costs of a water-proof shell, tethering cable, a wifi hub, and you are getting very close to and beyond that proposed total value of $1700. The critical question becomes if there is no way for the company to make any profit on these drones, is it a legitimate product? Right now there is no margin for error, be it delay or production, at this price point.
The final area we and any crowdfund backer can research is the social media accounts, website, and online presence of the company. This is perhaps the final nail in the coffin, as the total summation of internet presence is about 5 videos and a handful of comments on YouTube. No Facebook, no active twitter, no company webpage, and no active Instagram. For a company that deals in a technology that is absolutely perfect for any of these video and picture sharing platforms, to have no presence is a big red flag.
The final verdict is you should avoid this campaign. The prototype was reviewed, but never tested in any of those reviews. Only one of the reviews used their own photographs, while the others used ones you can find on the campaign. None of the reviews show the product in action, and the campaign page doesn’t provide links to them. Coupled with a lot of questionable marketing decisions, the use of a CGI/overlay product in the video, lack of internet presence, and strange campaign backing thus far, it is clear that something with this campaign is amiss.
We never want to negatively impact a campaign, but too many things here are off. Lastly, these drones already exist, and can be bought from other vendors. Always look for a company that does engagement right (look at the Bluerobotics Blog), shows off their product (like the Powerray being shown off at the San Francisco Aquarium), and is available online.
Update: Finally discovered the FB page, which wasn’t linked to the campaign. Is has somehow has amassed 4000 likes in a week. This may be evidence of paid for likes, and lacks a lot of media that should be present along with more promises of 4k video.
Did an analysis of the likes with FB Search: The majority of likes come from Singapore and Hungary, with the top language being Thai. While the company is from China, these likes have a high probability of being from a black hat source.