Back at CES in Las Vegas in January of this year, I reviewed the Nuwa Pen; a three-camera ballpoint pen that promises to convert your scribbles into digital notes, then apply OCR and AI smarts to extract the most relevant data. Write “Meeting with Chris Tuesday at 6pm” on a Post-it and the promise is that the pen will pull out the relevant data and create a calendar event. At the end of April, I met the founder of the company and got the chance to try it out. When I did that, I realized that the product I saw at CES wasn’t delivering the results the company was showing at the show. The company launched this week a Kickstarter campaign showing her visionbut does not seem to fully reflect the current status of the product.
At CES, I was told the company had a fully functioning prototype and was shown a Post-it with a digitized image:
When I was allowed to try the pen four months later, it turned out that the demo I was shown was not quite what it seemed. As of April 27, the company’s product was able to accurately capture very simple glyphs, but only a single stroke at the time, and drawing a cottage on a Post-it note would be completely out of the pen’s reach. lie.
The problem for me is that the Kickstarter project does not reflect the current Nuwa Pen product status
In April, Marc Tuinier, Nuwa’s founder and CEO, admitted that the prototype the company brought to CES was “a rush job” and that the company had only partially made it work. He suggested that the hardware was currently locked down and that the next two to three months would largely revolve around optimizing the algorithms.
Nuwa told me that the prototype works well in “thick boxes,” but that the final integration step of putting the technology into the pen form factor shown in the images has not yet been completed.
“The model we used to draw and digitize the pages for the video is the bulkier version with the chip on a development board, so we had more control over how to customize the software,” Tuinier confirmed in an email today. to TechCrunch.
That makes a lot of sense; this is how product development works: you separate the design and the technology and combine them later in the development process. I covered how that process worked in an article last month.
The problem for me is that the Kickstarter project does not reflect the current product status of Nuwa Pen, especially in the video of the crowdfunding project.
In the video “Nuwa Pen: The Journey so Far…How we got here?” at about 1 minute and 10 seconds, you hear Gardener say, “So when you’re done writing, you can hold the Nuwa Pen close to your app and you’ll see an exact digital representation of what you’ve just written.” The problem is, as far as I understand, the company can’t do that with that prototype right now. Even in the video the company provided to TechCrunch, “exact rendering” can be a bit long.
Instead, this was the status quo in April:
I find it hard to reconcile that a video titled “the journey so far” contains a lot of “we will be able” statements rather than an accurate representation of, well, the journey so far. On the one hand, as a pitch coach and storyteller, I understand the importance of storytelling. And as someone who was spectacularly bitten by a crowdfunding hardware project that I tried (and failed) myself.I also believe in the importance of being honest about the delta between what is real and what is part of the product vision.
This is challenging for a number of reasons.
This kind of thing is also why I very rarely cover Kickstarter campaigns here at TechCrunch. On a basic level, So says Kickstarter itself “Hardware and product design makers must show working prototypes of their projects” and requires product makers “to support the development of your product, both honestly and transparently.” I’m certainly not the arbiter of whether Nuwa Pen violates Kickstarter’s rules here, but I believe it’s hard to argue that this Kickstarter campaign is in good faith honesty and transparency.
Nuwa Pen claims it can deliver
I asked the company if it was concerned that what it tried would turn out to be impossible.
“We use a consistent hardware tech stack and refine the embedded software to flash (integrate) it onto the compact version I showed you. Internally we have a development version where the cameras are operational – they are crucial, but it takes a lot of effort to perfect them. So while the version I showed you is smaller, the internals are consistent,” Tuinier explained in an email response today, after the Kickstarter campaign went live, and I asked him if he thought the risks were significant .
“The difference is that we have more control and flexibility with the larger version, especially in terms of camera development. In terms of financial risks, we faced some uncertainties at the beginning of the project, but our presence at CES helped mitigate them. We are now adding funds through Kickstarter to extend the future of Nuwa Pen. In the same vein, we also needed to update our delivery timeline, which was more in line with our development. We are now aiming to ship the first batch in December and the Kickstarter batch in March, which is later than initially anticipated as miniaturization was a challenge we overcame,” Tuinier said in the statement. “We have completed most of the complex tasks and developed a functional pipeline in controlled environments. Development has accelerated, which helps us predict our timeline much more accurately. So yes, the product will function as shown in the video. The main challenge we are working on is the time it takes to make the embedded software more compact.”
The team provided a photo of the version of the pen used to create the results shown in the Kickstarter video, and asked me not to share it more widely, citing that “it’s our MCU (Microcontroller) exposes, which is not public.” information.” The photo shows a pen with a ribbon cable running to a deck-sized box, which then connects to a laptop with a USB cable.
I also asked the Nuwa Pen team to record a video showing the current version of the pen. A few days later, the team provided the video below, which appears to show a prototype of the pen that works wirelessly and connects to the app. It briefly shows the handwriting as captured, showing that the company has made significant progress since I tried the device myself in April. It seems that the pen can now handle multiple strokes and that the recording is robust enough to recognize the strokes as the word “hello”. It’s nowhere near as accurate as shown in the Kickstarter video.
Donors need transparency
And herein lies the crux; the Kickstarter videos are full of sleek, extremely well-produced videos, photos, and product visions, with barely a developer kit in sight. Doubly frustrating; there is a Risks and Challenges section at the bottom of the campaign that lists supply chains, “customs and shipping regulations” and “pandemics, natural disasters or other unforeseen events” as risks, but does not mention that the product is not currently working as seen in the videos. That seems to me to be the biggest risk of all.
Do not get me wrong. I know that product development can be very difficult indeed, and that it is a long way from idea, through prototype, to manufactured product. If and when the Nuwa Pen works as the company envisions, I think it will be a cool product for those who still write on scraps of paper with a pen. However, as a startup, it’s a better idea to be transparent with Kickstarter backers — as it turns out, they often don’t mind a product being in development. The other alternative is to put off a crowdfunding campaign until a product actually works as shown. The in-between approach that Nuwa Pen has taken is misleading at best – and far worse at worst.