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Despite 60,000 pre-orders, the Lily flying camera is permanently grounded

A Consumer Electronics Show Innovation Award in 2016 and $34 million in pre-orders won’t be enough to get the Lily flying camera off the ground. The company announced Wednesday night that they would be shutting down and sending a refund of all pre-orders because of a lack of funding.

When Lily first started showing off a prototype, the company didn’t even call it a drone, but a flying camera. The idea came from a family vacation where creator Antoine Balaresque noticed his mother was missing from the photos because she took all of them. The Lily was designed to be a personal cameraman and — unlike the more traditional drones, there were no controls. Users simply tossed the Lily in the air with a sensor in their pocket and the flying camera would follow them.

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That idea first launched the company back in 2013, with a prototype in 2015. The company has at least two delivery delays since, with the latest notice telling pre-order customers to expect their drone between December 2016 and January 2017.

Even though the company managed to get at least 60,000 pre-orders, the years without a product on the shelves and multiple launch delays dwindled the company’s funds until there wasn’t enough left to actually manufacture and ship the drone.

“Over the past few months, we have tried to secure financing to unlock out manufacturing line and ship our first units — but have been unable to do this. As a result, we are deeply saddened to say that we are planning to wind down the company and offer refunds to customers,” an email to early backers explained.

The drone market is vastly different now then when the company first formed — and while 2016 was the best year for drone sales yet, Lily isn’t the only one struggling. Without a product on the market after several years, the company’s closure is unsurprising as even the well-known Parrot announces layoffs and 3DR shifted focus to industrial applications last year. DJI has a large share of the market, due in part to owning its own factories, which gives it a competitive pricing advantage.

While the Lily drone looked promising, the company now joins the number of tech startups that were unable to get up off the ground.

Update on 01-13-2017 by Gannon Burgett: SFGate is reporting that Lily Robotics is being sued by the San Francisco district attorney’s office over claims of false advertisement and unfair business practices after news that it was shutting down operations and refunding over 60,000 orders to the individuals who crowdfunded its meteoric rise.