A couple of weeks back we received a tip from a CI reader informing us that the InGen Dynamics Aido Robot offer had been unceremoniously yanked from equity crowdfunding platform, StartEngine. Not a good sign. StartEngine is perhaps best known for crowdfunding Elio Motors (OTQX: ELIO), the first company to raise capital under Reg A+ and then list on a public marketplace.
Regarding Reg CF, retail crowdfunding, StartEngine is the second most active crowdfunding platform in the US having helped to finance almost $7.7 million in the last 12 months. So, StartEngine is doing something right. But soon after disappearing from the pages of StartEngine, Aido returned. Having been reanimated, InGen Dynamics closed (on April 15) and raised almost $300,000 in equity capital from 345 individual investors.
It was last December when InGen Dynamics filed a Form-C to become eligible to raise up to $1 million by selling securities in the fledgling robotics firm under Regulation Crowdfunding. The InGen Dynamics campaign launched in the first quarter of 2017 and easily topped its minimum raise amount of $50,000. The success was driven largely due to a slick presentation of an affordable home robot targeting a mass market and accompanying video. Aido was pitched as a feature rich and dynamic product at a very reasonable price. Finally, a home robot you actually wanted was in reach. At least, that is what backers and investors were told.
InGen Dynamics, founded by Arshad Hisham, had blessed the pages of Indiegogo in 2016 where the rewards project raised about$890,000 – closing on April 24, 2016. Not a small amount of money. The campaign page on Indiegogo shares glowing quotes and promising claims of an amazing product. For example, quoting several respectable publications;
“… intelligent, voice activated robot that can feel touch & even display information using a built in projection system.” Forbes
“Aido is pretty much the robot they promised everyone back in the 1950s.” TNW
“It [Aido] is a rolling home robot – kind of like Siri if she became sentient and followed you around the house.” Fortune
Aido, a lovable, Wall-E like interactive robot designed to make life easier, was presented as the “next generation social family robot – smart, interactive, and uniquely mobile.” Supporters of the Indiegogo offer could get it for just $499. Add a few bells and whistles, and Aido still came in at under $1,000. Not too bad.
But is Aido really the social family robot consumers want and need? Regarding the Indiegogo campaign, Aido was originally scheduled to ship in October of 2016. As is frequently the case with rewards campaigns, backers are still waiting to receive their Aido home robot.
Ai-don’t Quite Know
There is another Aido / InGen related campaign running on Indiegogo today. As we all know, Indiegogo takes a very hands-off approach to allowing campaigns to launch on their site. Indiegogo is a bit of a free for all when it comes to projects. This campaign is a bit different though. It is called, “Aidon’t Exist II Nonexistent Boogaloo.” As the name indicates, this Indiegogo project was launched to bring attention to the Aido Robot and InGen Dynamics. The creators believe Aido is a blatant scam.
There are no glowing quotes from prominent publications here. The creators simply explain;
“Looking for a way to blow money in the stupidest way possible? Want someone to connect the dots and show you how your bank account will be lighter? Boy, have YOU come to the right campaign!!! If you’ve been wowed, awed, enraptured by the thought of having your very own social robot…”
Aidon’t Exist II Nonexistent Boogaloo campaign has raised just $11.00.
But then again, the campaign is not about raising money. It is about using Indiegogo to bring attention to another campaign.
The rise and fall and subsequent reanimation of the investment offer on StartEngine is a long, drawn out saga. Hardware projects on Indiegogo are not required to have working prototypes unlike its competitor Kickstarter and thus the perk-based platform has experienced a good number of failed hardware campaigns. Entrepreneurial exuberance or creator hyperbole have too frequently duped accepting donors. Creating a robust and working home robot is an extremely difficult task. But InGen made it look pretty simple. It appeared just about ready to ship.
In comparison, Jibo, another high-profile home robot campaign, raised $3.6 million on Indiegogo back in 2014. Jibo has a pretty impressive team led by a Ph.D. who directs the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media lab. Almost three years later, not a single Jibo has shipped as persistent delays have pushed the project back. The robot is less complex than Aido as it is a stationary product.
Aido by InGen has a single full-time employee working somewhere in India.
Aido on Indiegogo was brought to its knees largely due to the concerted efforts of two individuals determined to uncover crowdfunding scams. They attempted to do the same with the StartEngine campaign – and they almost succeeded.
Do you remember the BioRing scam? This one was a doozy as it fleeced just about everyone (with the exception of Indiegogo which kept its fees as far as I know).
Once again, a project received glowing reviews in the press. Ubergizmo called BioRing, “a revolutionary device”. The creators described the wearable tech in typically breathless terms calling it a “groundbreaking wellness tracker” that was “compact and stylish”. BioRing was the one ring activity tracker to rule them all. It did everything short of getting you a date. The problem was, it didn’t exist. Not at all.
And neither did the campaign creators, really.
The BioRing team was ostensibly based in Sweden, but then, who really knows? They absconded with over $400,000 while fleecing the PR firm that helped them to raise the money. Lev Raz and Lewis helped to shut the campaign down. Their direct efforts compelled Indiegogo to close down the In-Demand portion thus saving donors approximately $300,000.
Lev Raz and Lewis explain their mission is threefold:
- To expose crowdfunding fraud;
- To help gullible, misinformed, and deceived backers and investors overcome their denial and willful ignorance and avoid victimization;
- To place the various crowdfunding platforms on notice that they cannot turn a blind eye to fraud as deliberately weak or nonexistent campaign verification and backer/investor protection policies allow them to profit from it, while simultaneously indemnifying themselves against it.
Enter Aido by InGen
Crowdfund Insider spoke with Raz about their latest target Aido. We asked him about his interest in pursuing the crowdfunding project;
“Throughout 2016, I noted occasional Indiegogo paid ads for Aido via their newsletters and on Facebook. Not being in the market for a social home robot, I ignored them. But then John Lewis wrote his article about it and I took a deeper look. It was clearly evident that the robot in the pitch video was a non-functional mock-up with animated expressions, object recognition, and projections added digitally, and rather poorly at that.”
“But what struck me more than anything else that this was a calculated, deliberate vaporware scam along the same lines as BioRing and Triton Artificial Gills were Aido’s impossibly low price, considering the sheer amount of complex feature sets and functionality, the complete lack of robotics expertise among the core technical team, the company name blatantly ripped off from Jurassic Park and Boston Dynamics, the fact that by late 2016, not a single credible image or video as evidence of progress was produced, the non-existent “T3 2016 Game Changer Award” the campaign aggressively claimed it won, and the probably faked videos purporting interaction between an Aido prototype and an actor and working head-mounted projector.”
“When we unanimously concluded that nothing about the campaign was in good faith, John and I decided to publicly go after it and expose it for what it was. My motivation was as much an exercise in research and validation as it was to perform a public service. As a 20+ year veteran in product development, I love to solve challenging design problems and manage risk in a project. To put it simply, the risks in the Aido campaign far, far outweighed the creators’ ability to avoid, prevent, and overcome them by means of operational, technological, and financial contingencies.”
“We later uncovered a wealth of new information both from our own research and from contributors (primarily backers and robotics experts), and these discoveries only reinforced our original conclusions.”
So what happened next?
Raz and Lewis have actually launched two Indiegogo campaigns accusing InGen Dynamics of running a scampaign. The first timed out, so they started another. There is more than a bit of irony that Raz and Lewis are using Indiegogo to undermine Indiegogo’s process.
The two myth-busters quickly set about separating fact from fiction. And there was plenty to do.
The slick mock-ups and video presentations are more than a few steps away from reality. And it does not appear the creator is getting any closer to delivering anything resembling a real robot anytime soon.
One correspondence shared with Crowdfund Insider included commentary from a robotics firm that has patented some of the technology represented in the Aido video;
“Thanks for reaching out. I am aware of Aido and have looked closely at it’s claims … This experience [in the Robotics field] leads me to believe that the product, with the full feature set claimed, will never see the light of day and certainly not for the price listed. I do commend you in your goal of cleaning up the crowdfunding space and particularly for hardware which is easily underestimated both in terms of time and money. Aido is a great example as you’ve already started to debunk.”
At some point in March, apparently, there was a demo of the current Aido Robot prototype. A representative from Indiegogo was said to be in attendance and, after viewing the demo, the Aido In-Demand campaign was summarily shut down. InGen Dynamics had transgressed Indiegogo’s terms of service as it did not appear the company would be able to ship perks any time soon.
Success on Indiegogo Leads to Listing on StartEngine
Without a working prototype and in need of more money, InGen Dynamics migrated over to investment crowdfunding platform StartEngine.
As the offering documents state, if you invest now you are betting InGen Dynamics will be worth more than $12 million at some point in the future. Now. Remember that InGen has not shipped a single robot and has never earned a single dime beyond the Indiegogo campaign.
As it was relayed to Crowdfund Insider, the representative from Indiegogo agreed to contact StartEngine regarding their doubts about the project. It was at that time Aido was yanked from the pages of StartEngine as management reviewed the propriety of the offering.
When the campaign was pulled, Crowdfund Insider contacted representatives from StartEngine inquiring as to the status of the InGen Dynamics offer.
We were told in early April;
“The offering is currently paused as we are in the process of clarifying some of the disclosure made by the company. As soon as we have completed our review, we will share an update.”
The StartEngine Compliance Officer added;
“Thank you for your email. As a matter of policy we do not comment on such matters.”
We contacted Indiegogo as well and they were rather reticent to discuss the campaign. One person with knowledge of the project did inform us that InGen Dynamics was processing refunds. At least for some of the backers.
Next on the list was campaign creator Hisham. In an email to Crowdfund Insider, Hisham stated;
“We stopped taking contributions in our Indiegogo campaign end of December 2016 – We halted the contributions – You can see the date of our last contribution on our campaign page on IndieGoGo to confirm this. The reason for us to halt the IndieGoGo campaign was to concentrate on our product development and other activities. Robotics projects are complex and involves integrating software, mechanical, hardware and third party Artificial intelligence modules. Most of our backers who contributed on IndieGoGo is well aware that the project is a work in progress and we have been very transparent with this. We recently demonstrated some functionality of our project to Tom’s Guide on 13th March / in addition to have an open day with backers to discuss progress on the 16th. We are planning to release another update soon to our backers and investors. We are having some administrative queries/issues on our StartEngine campaign which are minor, and expect this to get resolved soon. Many thanks and hope you have a good evening.”
And then, quite suddenly, the StartEngine campaign reappeared only to quickly close. The aspiring next generation home robot had done fairly well having raised nearly $300k.
If it sounds too good to be true…
So is Aido a scampaign? Is Aido a vapor-bot? Are investors and Indiegogo backers throwing good money after bad?
I suggest you watch the Indiegogo pitch video for Aido here below:
The video is pretty impressive, I must admit.
But if you are looking for a reality update, watch some more recent videos of Aido here.
It is pretty hard to miss the profound disparity between reality and final cut pro software. One commenter politely labeled the videos as “cringeworthy”. That was being nice.
Recently, an email was shared with Crowdfund Insider showing a StartEngine investor requesting a refund of money committed to the equity crowdfunding campaign pointing to the questionable nature of the actual product. The request was denied.
There has been a good amount of criticism leveled against the quality of Reg CF crowdfunding offers being pitched to smaller investors. Heightened valuations and outlandish predictions of economic success may, at some point in the future, undermine the entire industry.
If Aido fails to deliver on its Indiegogo perks soon there is little chance that InGen Dynamics will ever deliver to any backer or investor. You have to wonder if InGen Dynamics has the money to ship and deliver working robots matching the pitch video. So you decide.
And where does Indiegogo stand in all this? Their terms of service are pretty clear. The Indiegogo platform is just matching a buyer to a seller. More donation than anything else. Buyer beware.
And what about StartEngine? That’s a bit tougher. The securities industry is highly regulated. The former SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, publicly stated she expected crowdfunding platforms to act as the first line of defense regarding potential acts of crowdfunding fraud – but she is long gone. And there is a lot of gray between intentional fraud and failure.
StartEngine clearly states that it does not recommend nor otherwise suggest that any investor make an investment in a particular offering. But then it does in a way by curating the companies that list on its FINRA regulated funding platform.
The legal standards regarding platform liability on the side of StartEngine are very limited. So StartEngine is pretty much free and clear. Besides, what lawyer would take on a questionable case that raised just $300,000. There is clearly no money there.
There is much more to this story that Lewis and Raz can share. In the end, a few hundred people may find themselves out a few dollars. But if the wheels fall off the Aido /InGen offer, the bigger loss may be to the reputation and credibility of the nascent Reg CF crowdfunding sector.
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