By John Lewis and Guy Raz
This is the story of a scam…a very well-orchestrated one.
It is based on a little robot called Aido from Ingen Dynamics Inc (no, not that Ingen), and the wants and desires of a number of people who really believed that the future was NOW. That it was possible for them to have a robot just like the ones they see on TV operating in their own home.
And why not? For years, science fiction has been promising us robotic servants to make our lives more interesting and easier. This carried over into all sorts of media, from Robert Heinlein print stories through Buck Rogers to Lost in Space and on into Star Wars, so that it didn’t seem outlandish to actually expect this.
The ground therefore was very fertile when the campaigners of Aido planted the idea of their robot in the minds and imaginations of people who gave them money on Indiegogo.
They had even chosen their robot’s name with care, making sure it was similar to Aibo, Sony’s robotic dog companion by phonetic association. (They could also have been thinking of Jibo and other crowdfunded social robots to piggyback off of.)
So. Many. Droids.
Aido was supposed to be a social robot that was the answer to everyone’s desire to have a helping hand around the house – but it allegedly could do so much more.
In fact, an incredible amount more:
￼Source: Aido Indiegogo campaign
Ingen Dynamics Inc backed up these claims with a professionally done video, showcasing functions for all to marvel at:
The Aido video on their Indiegogo campaign to sell people on this robot raised a lot of questions. They didn’t have a working product, so how could they be showing an operational one to the public? There wasn’t a prototype to video!
People with sharp eyes, good memory, and a grasp of robotics fundamentals talked about their observations on platforms such as reddit.
First and foremost, the movements of the robot in the promotional video could only have been possible if it were maneuvered like a puppet by hand. In watching the video, you never saw the “prototype” operating in full body view. It was always either only the upper portion or lower portion – leaving ample room for a hidden puppeteer just off-camera to achieve the desired motion effect for the camera.
Second, all anyone had to do is remind themselves that there actually was no operational prototype. It was one of the reasons why they were soliciting funds on Indiegogo in the first place. They wanted that money to build operational prototypes.
Third, they showed the Aido performing all sorts of additional functions such as projecting images onto walls, helping with dinner, home repair instruction, and even opening doors with no visible arms with ‘hands’ to do so. This was quite startling, cutting-edge material for a product that had no working prototype of any kind.
Perhaps the ultimate in viewer manipulation was an obvious tug at emotion when they showed Aido with children, and looking pensively out at the family playing in the snow. You could almost hear the heart rending whimpering of the robot like an abandoned pet because it was unable to join them in the fun outside. After all, being a ballbot meant that Aido would be easily defeated by stairs, carpet edges and any uneven surfaces.
Of course, being a robot, Aido wouldn’t have had feelings that could be hurt. Like R2-D2 in Star Wars, this was pure marketing candy inserted for dramatic effect and backer manipulation.
So, what was it we were actually seeing in that video – the one so persuasive in getting people to part with their money ($833,950.00 USD at last check)?
Turns out, it was an empty shell.
One look at the Aido campaign video and it wasn’t long until the truth was uncovered on the World Wide Web. It seemed that the people involved with fabricating the empty Aido shell were pretty proud of the work they had done, and wanted to tell everybody about it.
￼￼Why shouldn’t they? They only knew what they had been told it was for…a movie prop, as you can see from these posts. It had come to them for rework from India, and they felt they did a fine rush job on it.
Oddly, all these references vanished later…perhaps from embarrassment, or some other reason. We’ll probably never know, but the evidence is preserved on imgur.com above for you to see.
Aido’s designers put a lot of detailed effort in various things to sell people on the concept that they could bring in a household robot for the low crowdfunding price in their Indiegogo campaign of $599.00 USD. To that end, they made sure that there were some cutaway and skeletal diagrams of Aido both on the Indiegogo website and in the Updates made available to backers they had roped in. It gave the campaign a veneer of respectability by alluding to research being done – and completed.
There’s even a 64-page instruction booklet for Aido. Interesting, since the product is still supposed to be under development with no working prototype.
Visually, the artwork was quite interesting.￼￼￼
The problem was something that was glaringly obvious: based on the diagrams shown, it wasn’t possible to insert all of the extra pieces of equipment necessary to perform all the functions that Aido was supposed to be able to do.
You wouldn’t have known that from this drawing, though. It’s completely empty.
Source: Guy Raz
Some components made no sense.
Source: Guy Raz
That Android tablet and head casing to hold it would prove problematical for the multimedia projector claimed for Aido.
Source: Guy Raz
Things showcased in the infamous video couldn’t happen as shown.
They were pure fiction strictly to raise funds.
Perhaps the most preposterous claim is the purported means of Aido’s locomotion: a large motive ball at its base and some 3-pronged drive wheel mechanism. As seen in the video, the Aido ‘ballbot’ supposedly balances on a single point at the base of a sphere, staying upright the entire time. This in and of itself is not impossible – that is, if the ball is BY FAR the heaviest component of the assembly and it is designed to work like a SPHERO robot (think BB-8 from Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens). But it’s not. It’s a hollow or solid free-rolling structure, like the rubber-coated iron ball in first generation computer mice, and it’s supposed to be rolled from the outside.
Source: Guy Raz
Imagine if Aido had to project a movie, an interactive menu, or take photos and video of its owners – there would also have to be image stabilization firmware on top of the camera hardware. This is common in aerial drones. Now imagine the noise of the gears, motors, and bearings while it was doing this – you’d have to wear noise-canceling headphones the entire time!
For that matter, no one had ever seen even a genuine mock-up of Aido rolling about under it’s own power, ever. This was something that increasingly perplexed the Aido backers, until someone finally gave voice of their concerns to the campaigners. In response, Ingen Dynamics acknowledged that they were having problems in developing the ballbot locomotion they had promised. Then they simply dropped the topic.
This is a common tactic used by those scamming in crowdfunding. Anything that might reflect badly on the goals of the campaign is either ignored, swept aside, or even eliminated entirely from the Comments section of the campaign site.
Case in point, the following comments are no longer found on Aido’s Indiegogo site:
Source: imgur.com September 9 2016
The most common backer concerns were becoming uncomfortable at Ingen Dynamics, since they were coming up regularly now in their Aido Indiegogo Comments section. So they did an Update series to deal with the backer unrest.
Ingen Dynamics was in trouble. Problem was, their own continued actions were just digging them deeper.
Aido’s campaigners at Ingen Dynamics Inc loved their videos. No matter how badly they were shot, they were included in the occasional Updates. Camera phones were the bomb, as far as they were concerned!
For instance, these are allegedly the Ingen Dynamics Inc offices in California, which they shot for an Update. A fine, state-of-the-art facility:
Source: Dropbox Z upload
It’s supposed to be at this address in Palo Alto, according to their information on Google:
It’s 2600 El Camino Real, in case you wondered. The Brutalist building.
Let’s hope that they get Aido finished quick, since the building they’re in is destined to be torn down (it was originally built in 1966). That means all that open, cutting edge space in the video above will very soon no longer be available.
Moving along, how about a peek behind the scenes at Ingen to see just what they’re doing to bring Aido to life?
Apparently, they’re inspired by reruns of Space:1999 – a series noted for a lack of robots.
You’ll see in this video that they’ve given Aido the human-like quality of indecision. It took several long seconds for it to decide that onions could be made into a soup, instead of a Blooming Onion(tm) or onion rings or…
Another interesting thing in the videos was how easily (again, after several seconds) Aido identified items asked about – even though the exact locations were not specified, and alternate names could have been used.
The sequence involving emotion recognition is, frankly, hilarious.
Just what are the Ingen Dynamics Inc engineers up to all day in the development of Aido? Like their cinematic namesake in Jurassic Park, do they have troubling thoughts of “even if it’s possible, it’s not always a good idea to try it…” while they work?
..and do they hear those thoughts in Ian Malcolm’s voice?
The Updates continue to reveal all!
Holding staring contests with a decapitated Aido in one video seems a great way to spur cutting-edge robotic development.
All of this frantic action is part of the effort to fit those unknown, random parts you just saw on those lunch tables into this plan:
This is fun to look at. It’s cool to see. There’s just one problem, though –
Source: Guy Raz
All is not as it seems.
“Nothing more than a mobile tablet?”
Well, not exactly. Remember that the ballbot movement devices still have to be invented for it to be mobile. Hope they’re hopping right on that, since their newly announced rescheduled shipping deadline of February 2017 is fast approaching.
The Ingen Dynamics Inc people went out of their way to appear before any industry gathering that would have them. It added assumed industry credit to their efforts.
Chief feather in their cap was this invitation on their Indiegogo campaign site:
Disney animatronics people are known worldwide for innovative thinking, so an invitation from them was just super for putting across possible Ingen Dynamics Inc bona fides.
And of course, they filmed it for an Update on a cell phone!
Remember, this was filmed by a state-of-the-art robotics firm.
What the heck did we just see? Was there anything going on at that Disney gathering – because you can’t tell from this video. That is one heck of a PR fail.
Which leads up to an observation concerning alleged awards, articles, and their actual worth to you as a backer in crowdfunding.
Aido has been getting a lot of press, if the campaign site is any indication:
Source:Aido Indiegogo campaign
It’s always impressive when a known journalistic source takes an interest in the product you are trying to get folks to invest in. Problem is, none of those noted publications above – or any others – have seen a functioning Aido. Just like the backers.
So what did those publications actually say about Aido in light of that fact?
Well, Slashgear’s article source was Indiegogo, so it’s a simple rewrite of the Aido site there. No questions, no depth. Forbes is one paragraph in a larger compilation of stories that redirects to the TNW site for details.
That TNW article linked above does not end well for Aido:
“I have to say, I’m a little dubious about the kind of specs you can really get for a robot at this price that promises to do pretty much anything you ask. Aido definitely can’t go upstairs or open doors right now, though, so maybe don’t kill your butler just yet.” KIRSTY STYLES, TheNextWeb
The heavyweight publisher featured above, Fortune magazine? Here’s where selective quoting works, just like in movie ads. The title of Fortune’s full article by Anne VanderMey on May 7, 2016 is:
“If you were already nervous about the A.I. revolution, there is a campaign on Indiegogo right now that will convince you to renounce all your worldly possessions and live forever in a southern Nevada commune.”
The entire article goes on in the same vein, but you’d never know that from the quote cherry-picked on Indiegogo above.
Let’s look at one final bit of Ingen/Aido PR puffery.
We reached out to the T3 people about this claim, since we can find no online reference to such an award. We’ll let you know if we hear back.
Who are the people behind Ingen Dynamics Inc, and by extension, Aido?
The CEO, Arshad Hisham, is pretty hard to research, despite the credentials touted on the Aido campaign page.
But when you Google Ingen Dynamics Palo Alto, he does show up:
We can’t find anything for Karpagarajan Natarajan from the UAE, even on LinkedIn.
Tilbin Paul is an Industrial Designer at TAG Automotive, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Claims to be a graduate of MIT Institute of Design, but it’s not THE MIT – it’s this one:
You should notice from his LinkedIn profile that he’s no longer associated with Ingen Dynamics Inc and hasn’t been for months, though he’s still on the Aido campaign pages as a team member.
These are the people you have been giving money to, Aido backers!
Copyright 2016 John Lewis
All rights reserved. Anyone wishing to republish this content, in whole or in part, contact email@example.com for permission.
John Lewis is a freelance writer and editor for hire. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org . To see more of his product write-ups on LinkedIn, join the group Products In Search of A Market . On Facebook, join Products in Search of a Market (Facebook). He also writes for the site Crowdfunding Hell.
Guy Raz has his engineering career keeping him busy. He also runs the page Indiegogo & Kickstarter Scam Awareness Group on Facebook.