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It’s over for the Zano drone, Europe’s most heavily backed Kickstarter campaign

The excitement around the Zano mini-drone at the end of last year helped it become Europe’s most heavily backed Kickstarter project, with more than 12,000 supporters investing £2.3 million ($3.5m).

Trumpeted as “an ultra-portable, personal aerial photography and HD video capture platform, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and intelligent enough to fly all by itself,” the project had little trouble attracting funds, with a minimum pledge of £139 ($210) apparently guaranteeing an early version of the remotely controlled copter.

However, reports over the last six months or so suggested the startup behind the drone – Wales-based Torquing – was having difficulty building the machine, and this week the backers received the worst possible news: the project had collapsed.

Related: DT’s guide to launching a Kickstarter campaign

Torquing sent a message to backers on Wednesday to inform them of the project’s demise. The startup had up to now only shipped 600 of the 15,000+ drones ordered.

In the message, Torquing wrote, “Having explored all options known to us, and after seeking professional advice, we have made the difficult decision to pursue a creditors’ voluntary liquidation.”

It went on, “We are greatly disappointed with the outcome of the Zano project, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us during this difficult period, especially our loyal employees, whose commitment has exceeded all expectations.”

Design issues

Doubts about the project’s viability first surfaced when Zano’s June shipping date came and went without any deliveries being made. A visit by the BBC to the team’s workshop two months later revealed the startup was continuing to struggle as engineers grappled with design issues, suggesting that the project wouldn’t be able to deliver on the promises that attracted so many supporters – you can check out the original pitch in the video above.

A demonstration given to the BBC by project leader Ivan Reedman only included an indoor flight because the all-important outside mode wasn’t yet functioning. More worryingly, the batteries had to be changed after just five minutes, though the project promised 10-15 minutes of flying time. Finally, the quality of the captured video was described as “quite poor.”

Reedman resigns

With little progress made since the summer, Reedman left the company last week citing “personal health issues and irreconcilable differences,” according to a message he left on a Zano forum.

And then on Wednesday backers learned the project had collapsed. It’s not clear at this stage if any funds will be returned – that’s down to Torquing. Kickstarter states in its own terms: “Kickstarter doesn’t offer refunds. Responsibility for finishing a project lies entirely with the project creator. Kickstarter doesn’t hold funds on creators’ behalf, cannot guarantee creators’ work, and does not offer refunds.”

While Kickstarter can undoubtedly be an effective platform for bringing some incredible ideas to life, the Zano episode demonstrates there are risks for supporters investing their own cash.

“There are no guarantees”

In a statement to the BBC, Kickstarter said that creators using its service “have a remarkable track record, but there are no guarantees that a project will work out.”

Kickstarter’s terms only provide general guidelines for when a project falls apart. “The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers,” it says on its site.