No-fly Zano

It was almost a year ago that Cllr Keith Lewis appeared in the Western Telegraph showing off a new mini-drone – Zano – that was in development by Torquing Group at Pembroke Dock’s Innovation Centre.

Keith Lewis droneThe company’s marketing director Reece Crowther (pictured with Cllr Lewis) is quoted as saying “We have a product that has a chance to achieve global market domination.”

An enthusiastic Western Telegraph reported in a piece headlined “Groundbreaking robot drone first aired in county” that: “The technology has other possibilities for the Torquing Group, who have developed contacts as diverse as the US military and the CIA, where ZANO can be used as a surveillance machine.”

The picture was taken at an “Innovation Event” and Cllr Lewis is quoted as saying that, if the county’s economy was to flourish, it was vital “to encourage development, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

It seems that the member for Crymych was not alone in his optimism because Zano broke all records for a Kickstarter crowd-funded project by raising more than £2 million from willing punters.

A fool and his money are soon parted, as we shall see.

It is interesting to read the comments on the Western Telegraph’s website which are almost equally divided between sceptics and those taking the sceptics to task for being negative about this ground-breaking technology.

I must admit I was in the first category, but given my poor record on these things – I’ve never owned a mobile phone (didn’t think they’d catch on) – I kept my own counsel.

On the subject of mobile phones: a few years ago Grumpette and I borrowed one from our daughter when we went on a long journey up north to Cumberland. When we hit the M6 near Stoke on Trent we decided to ring in and tell her all was well. Unfortunately, despite having been given clear instructions, we couldn’t get the infernal machine to work so we pulled off the motorway and found a phone box.

However, it seems that not everyone was as keen on this development as Cllr Lewis because last August, Rory Cellan Jones the BBC’s technology correspondent decided to pop down to Pembroke Dock and have a look see.

What he discovered was that the drone – as its name suggests – didn’t seem to work.

Instead of staying in the air for 15 minutes, as the promoters claimed, it could only manage five before its batteries expired, and the video pictures weren’t up to much either.

On top of that, the much vaunted navigation system – designed to allow the drone to avoid obstacles – wasn’t terribly effective and when Rory conducted a test flight it crashed into a wall.

The company’s Facebook page is inundated with complaints from disappointed customers and now the BBC is reporting that Ivan Reedman, the brains behind the project, has thrown in the towel.

It is not clear from the report whether the company is still a going concern, but with £2 million in the bank I don’t suppose the promoters care one way or the other.

The lesson is that, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

To be fair to Cllr Lewis, the expression on his face doesn’t exactly convey huge enthusiasm and it is possible that he was badgered into this ill-starred photo opportunity by some persistent newspaper reporter.

The explanation offered by the young upstart, who put me on to this story, is that the retired Crymych baker misheard what was said and mistook “customised devices” for “custard slices” and only realised his error when the thing was thrust into his hand.

That seems a bit far-fetched to me.

More likely is that, in common with a lot of people of a certain age, not being entirely at home in this world of apps and plug-ins, he goes with the flow in order to avoid looking stupid.

That’s my tactics, anyway.

However, we can console ourselves with the thought that there is nothing new about these fine sounding schemes.

Three hundred years ago in Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift described just such a situation: “He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sun-beams from cucumbers, which were to be put into vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.”

Nothing much has changed, except nowadays we cover the earth with windmills and solar panels.