Wed. Jun 7th, 2023

Again at CES in Las Vegas in January this 12 months, I previewed the Nuwa Pen; a three-camera-containing ballpoint pen that guarantees to show your scribbles into digital notes after which apply OCR and AI smarts to tug out probably the most pertinent knowledge. Write “Assembly with Chris at 6pm Tuesday” on a Submit-it and the promise is that the pen will pull out the related knowledge and create a calendar occasion. In late April, I met up with the corporate’s founder and had an opportunity to strive it out. After I did, I noticed that the product I noticed at CES didn’t produce the outcomes the corporate was displaying on the commerce present. This week, the corporate launched a Kickstarter marketing campaign that reveals its imaginative and prescient, however doesn’t seem to mirror the present standing of the product totally.

At CES, I used to be informed that the corporate had a completely functioning prototype, and was proven a Submit-it with a digitized picture:

The “demo” the corporate confirmed me at CES was much like this picture, and illustrated how simply the drawing on the Submit-it will be digitized. It now transpires that the demo wasn’t achieved with the pens that have been on show. Picture Credit: TechCrunch / Haje Kamps

After I received to strive the pen out 4 months later, it turned out that the demo I used to be proven wasn’t fairly what it appeared to be. On April 27, the corporate’s product was in a position to seize quite simple glyphs precisely, however solely a single stroke on the time, and drawing a bit of home on a Submit-it be aware could be comprehensively past the pen’s attain.

A curl as written on the left, and as captured on the best. It confirmed up mirrored within the app, however not less than had roughly the best form. Picture Credit: TechCrunch / Haje Kamps

The problem, for me, is that the Kickstarter challenge doesn’t mirror Nuwa Pen’s present product standing

In April, Marc Tuinier, Nuwa’s founder and CEO, admitted that the prototype the corporate delivered to CES was “a rush job,” and that the corporate solely had it working partially. He prompt that the {hardware} was locked at this level, and that the subsequent two to 3 months could be largely round optimizing the algorithms.

Nuwa informed me that it has the prototype working correctly in “chunky containers,” however that the ultimate integration step of placing the tech into the shape issue of the pen proven within the photos isn’t full but.

“The mannequin we used to attract and digitize the pages for the video is the bulkier model that had the chip on a dev board in order that we had extra management over tweaking the software program,” Tuinier confirmed in an e mail to TechCrunch right this moment.

That makes a number of sense; that’s how product improvement works: You create the design and the tech individually and marry them collectively later within the improvement course of. I received into a few of how that course of labored in an article final month.

Deceptive at finest

The problem, for me, is that the Kickstarter challenge doesn’t mirror Nuwa Pen’s present product standing — particularly within the crowdfunding challenge’s video.

Within the video “Nuwa Pen : The Journey so Far….How we received right here?” at about 1 minute and 10 seconds in, you possibly can hear Tuinier say “So when you’re achieved writing, you possibly can maintain the Nuwa Pen up near your app, and you may see an actual digital illustration of what you simply wrote.” The issue is, so far as I perceive, the corporate isn’t at the moment in a position to try this with that prototype. Even within the video the corporate offered to TechCrunch, “precise illustration” could also be a little bit of a stretch.

As a substitute, this was the established order in April:

I wrote “write” and “take a look at” and drew a form. On the high, you possibly can see what the pen and app captured. As it’s also possible to see — there’s nearly no similarity between my terrible handwriting and what the Nuwa Pen captured. Picture Credit: TechCrunch / Haje Kamps

I’m discovering it onerous to reconcile {that a} video known as “the journey thus far” incorporates a number of “we can” statements relatively than an correct illustration of, properly, the journey thus far. On the one hand, as a pitch coach and storyteller, I perceive the significance of storytelling. And as somebody who was spectacularly bitten by a crowdfunding {hardware} challenge I attempted (and failed) to ship myself, I additionally consider within the significance of being trustworthy in regards to the delta between what’s actual and what’s a part of the product imaginative and prescient.

That is difficult for a variety of causes.

This form of factor is, by the way, additionally the rationale why I very not often cowl Kickstarter campaigns right here on TechCrunch. On a primary stage, Kickstarter itself says that “{hardware} and product design creators are required to indicate working prototypes of their initiatives” and requires that product creators “present backers the event of your product, each truthfully and transparently.” I’m undoubtedly not the arbiter of whether or not Nuwa Pen is falling foul of Kickstarter’s guidelines right here, however I consider it’d be onerous to argue that this Kickstarter marketing campaign is good-faith honesty and transparency.

Nuwa Pen argues it will probably ship

I requested the corporate whether or not it was fearful that what it was making an attempt to do would possibly show to be not possible.

“We’re utilizing a constant {hardware} tech stack and fine-tuning the embedded software program to flash it (combine it) on the compact model I confirmed you. Internally we’ve got a improvement model with the cameras being operational – they’re essential however take important effort to excellent. So whereas the model I confirmed you is smaller, the internals are constant,” Tuinier defined in an emailed remark right this moment, after the Kickstarter marketing campaign went dwell, and I requested him whether or not he perceived the dangers have been important.

The Kickstarter marketing campaign’s backers observed that not one of the supplies offered by Nuwa on the marketing campaign web page reveals the product really in use. Picture Credit: Kickstarter / Nuwa Pen

“The distinction is that we’ve got extra management and suppleness with the bigger model, significantly concerning digital camera improvement. As for monetary dangers, we did face some uncertainties early within the challenge, however our displaying at CES helped to mitigate these. We’re now including to our funding via Kickstarter to increase Nuwa Pen’s future. On this similar line of thought, we additionally wanted to replace our supply timeline, which was extra consistent with our improvement. We now purpose to ship the primary batch in December and the Kickstarter batch in March, which is later than initially anticipated for the reason that miniaturization was a problem we’ve managed to beat,” Tuinier stated within the assertion. “We have now accomplished a lot of the complicated duties and developed a practical pipeline in managed environments. The event has been accelerating, which helps us to foretell our timeline with far more accuracy. So sure, the product will operate as properly, as proven within the video. The important thing problem we’re engaged on is the time wanted to get the embedded software program extra compact.”

The crew offered a photograph of the model of the pen that was used to create the outcomes proven within the Kickstarter video, and requested that I not share it extra extensively, citing that “it exposes our MCU [Microcontroller], which isn’t public info.” The picture reveals a pen with a ribbon cable operating to a field the scale of a deck of playing cards, which is then linked to a laptop computer with a USB cable.

I additionally requested the Nuwa Pen crew to file a video that reveals the present model of its pen. A few days later, the crew offered the beneath video, which seems to indicate a prototype of the pen operating wirelessly and connecting to the app. It briefly reveals the handwriting as captured, and reveals that the corporate has made important progress since I attempted the machine myself in April. It seems that the pen is now in a position to deal with a number of pen strokes, and that the seize is strong sufficient to acknowledge the pen strokes because the phrase “hey.” It’s nonetheless a methods away from being as correct as is proven within the Kickstarter video.

Backers want transparency

And herein lies the crux; the Kickstarter movies are filled with modern, extraordinarily well-produced movies, pictures and product visions, with nary a developer package in sight. Doubly irritating; there’s a Dangers and Challenges part on the backside of the marketing campaign that lists provide chains, “customs and transport rules” and “pandemics, pure disasters, or different unexpected occasions” as dangers, however fails to say that the product doesn’t at the moment work as proven within the movies. Which, to me, looks as if the largest danger of all.

Don’t get me flawed. I do know product improvement will be very onerous certainly, and that it’s a protracted highway from thought, by way of prototype, to manufactured product. If and when the Nuwa Pen works the way in which the corporate envisions, I believe it’ll be a cool product for individuals who nonetheless write with a pen on items of paper. As a startup, although, it’s a greater thought to be clear with Kickstarter backers — it seems that a number of the time, they don’t thoughts {that a} product is in improvement. The opposite various is to delay a crowdfunding marketing campaign till a product really works as proven. The in-between strategy Nuwa Pen selected is deceptive at finest — and one thing much more nefarious at worst.

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