Pre-Order Customers Receive Refunds From Bankrupt Drone Startup Lily

Back in 2015, a video promoting a consumer camera drone went viral. The product, called Lily, wasn’t just adorable. It promised to be easy to use, waterproof, and fly and record autonomously for 20 minutes at a time, following behind the wearer. Just under two years and tens of millions of dollars later, Lily Robotics was raided by federal agents, the company has filed for bankruptcy, and customers never received their drones.

You can see the appeal of a flying camera when watching the original Lily promotional video. The device flies in circles around a family standing in a field, follows people while they engage in outdoor sports, and fits in a backpack. It would have been a great product if it had ever shipped.

Over at Recode, April Glaser recounts the terrible and weird history of Lily. The company had $15 million in investor money, and took in almost $35 million in pre-sales based on that cool video. Now Lily is beginning to issue refunds, starting with customers in the United States.

Camera company GoPro tried to sell a sort of similar camera drone, but recalled them after some stopped working. That device cost $800, and users had to supply their own camera.

A Lily pre-order cost $499, and the company said that was half of the eventual retail price. Why were they charging so little early on? No one ever answered that question.

The comparison to GoPro’s drone is a little on the nose, though, because in emails obtained by the district attorney as part of a criminal investigation, the CEO of Lily worried that someone would notice the Lily promotional video was really filmed with a GoPro.

“I am worried that a lens geek could study our images up close and detect the unique GoPro lens footprint,” he wrote. “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.”

Yes, a criminal investigation: The company was accused of taking pre-orders for a product that would never exist.

Now, Lily Robotics will sell its intellectual property to pay its debts, which is apparently all that it has to sell. Beware of products that seem too cool to exist, because sometimes they never will exist.