There’s Trouble Brewin’ On The ‘ol Kickstarter Site

This Kickstarter campaign, the AmbioLight, brings RGB LED strips to the masses. The only problem is that some of the backers discovered this RGB LED strip is already on the market. Internet denizens are now frothing at the mouth, complaining the designers of the AmbioLight, “haven’t designed anything,” and are, “just reselling parts which [AmbioLight] put together at a higher cost than other products on the market.”

A few backers of the AmbioLight have found what they think to be the original product, an RGB LED strip produced by ELCO Lighting. Comparing the picture of the ‘ballast’ on the AmbioLight Kickstarter to the ELCO controller raises even more suspicions about how involved the AmbioLight team was involved in the design of their product.

Even if the AmbioLight is simply a repackaging of an already existing product, that doesn’t make it against the rules of Kickstarter. I’ve even contributed to Kickstarter campaigns just to get a difficult-to-source component. Still, given the vitriol of the AmbioLight’s comments page, Kickstarter contributors don’t seem to appreciate taking an already available product and reselling it as your own.

What say you, Hackaday reader? Is it right for the AmbioLight team to do this?

EDIT: Kickstarter suspended the funding of AmbioLight a few hours after this was posted.

111 thoughts on “There’s Trouble Brewin’ On The ‘ol Kickstarter Site

  1. Why would anybody be so stupid to think RGB LED stripes are an innovation? I don’t quite get the point… Isn’t it obvious that this is existing stuff? I guess all they did was to program a controller, right?

    1. That’s not a scam. They are raising money for their first production order. When ordering in mass quantities; the more you buy the less you pay per unit. Seeing as they don’t know how many units will be bought, they set a price where they know they won’t lose money. Now that they have an idea on how popular their product is, they can set a more reasonable price.

  2. I would say if they are taking a hard to find product and are really making it easier to get, then they are adding a value, and that’s a good thing.
    If they are simply taking peoples money and ordering the same thing from the same place and reselling at a profit, then they don’t deserve the Kickstarter project. That’s simply setting themselves up as a middleman, and they don’t need the supporters money for that.

    1. Except that is the thing – this ISN’T hard to find. Search eBay for “RGB LED strip”. You will find hundreds of similar – if not exactly the same – units. Also note that the price is often at least 10x cheaper…

      1. Then I would have to say everyone should stay away from it. If it really does follow Kickstarter rules, it’s still not all right, in my book. If it does not get funded then maybe others thinking of trying the same thing will give up the idea. Success in often copied, but unfortunately so is failure, so we’ll see this stuff again. :(

    1. A few things that the original Kickstarter post didn’t mention:

      Exhibit A: The blacked-out ELCO Lighting LED strip.

      Image from their Kickstarter:

      Note a few things: The strip design, the LED type, the positioning of components. The curiously blacked-out “—- Lighting” text?

      Compare with from many of the eBay posts that come up with a search for “RGB LED strip”.

      The design is the same. The eBay strip has only 3 LEDs per cuttable segment rather than 6, but that is the only difference in the design. Let’s skip a bit past some research into wattage.

      Note how there are two black marks on the strip. This was done in photoshop to obscure the text “ELCO LIGHTING”. Here, we find the exact same LED strip they are selling at the bottom (EWP1460-24M) of this page: . Same specifications as well…

      This masking of the “ELCO LIGHTING” text strongly suggests blatant deception on the creators’ part.

      Exhibit B: The “ballast”.

      I don’t know why they call it a ballast, but what they really mean is the LED controller. They don’t show any pictures of the full setup, but they do have this image on their Kickstarter of a corner of the controller: .

      Going back to the ELCO Lighting page, we find this: . Again – SAME UNIT.

      Since then, they have also posted a picture of the full unit: . This confirms our theories.

    1. I just ordered one of the 5 meter LED strips with power supply and remote control for $25.49. At least AmbioLight has been a service to me!

      Similar strips are available at $25/m via Adafruit without a power supply, so this lets me jump in to a couple of projects that would have been way too costly before.

      1. I think you have to be a bit careful because there are several variants. Some have only 150 LEDs per 5 meters and some have 300, some use smaller 3528 LEDs like the one you’ve linked and others use larger and brigher 5050 LEDs…

  3. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised by this. You don’t even have to deliver a product on Kickstarter as a transaction is considered an investment. Investments can pay off, and investments can not pay off.

    1. It’s not legally an investment either – they can’t pay you any dividends, issue you stock, pay you more money back than you gave them, etc. Kickstarter is much closer to charity that isn’t tax deductible and if you’re lucky gives you a widget at the end. Or just a nice warm feeling.

  4. Is it right for them to do that? Not in any decent sense of morals. Now, I’m not the world’s largest fan of intellectual property, but anyone with a sense of moral responsibility knows that repackaging an existing product as your own is just… Wrong.

    I tried to check the comparisons between the AmbioLight and the Elco products for myself, but, as of this writing, the Elco website is giving me a 500 error, and the cached version on Google lacks images. I do plan to keep the links handy, though, if only to check them out next time I want RGB strip lighting.

    1. Those strips and controllers are ALL compatible! Typically you can buy those controllers in a bundle of 5 for $20 shipped on ebay.

      We have been using these for years in our theater:

      Spent less than $100 to do our entire theater with over 80 feet of RGB and white LED strips.

      Protip: You can run three individual WHITE LED strips off any RGB strip controller! Makes for cool room lighting effects being able to fade the different sides of a room on and off.

  5. I think this might just be a little hacker natural selection. If those people put in the research they would have easily found out they could get the same product at a cheaper price. Same things goes for sourcing any parts. They are tons of bogus parts out there for outrageous prices, I don’t see how this is any different. Just do some research before you throw money at something.

    1. Same opinion.

      If you look at the (idiotic?) rage involved at the tangibot kickstarter (a makerbot replicator clone that was announced as a clone) it seems to me like some nerds feel like their religion is being badmouthed.

    2. Same here.

      If you observe the (idiotic?) rage around the tangibot kickstarter (a makerbot replicator clone that was announced as a clone with minimal changes) it seems like some people are looking at this like someone badmouthed their (nerd) religion.

    3. I Agree, strange that they even include “This is why we created the AmbioLight”… but all they have created is a kickstarter page and website. Couldn’t ELCO do something about these guys claiming that they created this technology?

  6. Not going to contribute, so I could not care less. If you are going to spend your money on a kickstarter project, you should look into it anyway. If what you see doesn’t pass the smell test, walk away.

  7. I have become disillusioned with Kickstarter. I have contributed to several projects that I thought advanced the technology (e.g. Makerslide), but anymore Kickstarter looks like an overpriced Ebay.

  8. I saw this on there the other day, thought, wow, I was looking on ebay and Amazon for the same stuff for cheaper, not sure how it’s new. But you have to back to leave a comment, so I forgot about it, glad others knew the proper steps.

  9. If Kickstarter is worth its salt then they should ban that project. I expect some quality, or rather originality and honesty control (if only in hindsight), from Kickstarter. I bet others do too. If Kickstarter can provide that then so much better for the next similar site that can.

    1. that’s the problem with crowd funding, once you sort out the outright scams, people who have no clue what they are getting into, things are already done better and cheaper, people that just want someone else to pay for that fancy gadget they need for their hobby. etc. etc. there isn’t much left

      but if the sites don’t filter those out they will quickly disappear

  10. Wow – they just modified images on their Kickstarter page and website to attempt to remove evidence… Apparently the picture on the front page has now been edited to have no more ELCO LIGHTING on the LED strip with the black crossed out.

    For reference, here was the old image:

    Here is the new image:…

  11. We all know how to find cheap parts, and put it together, but think of all the frat boys who want to pimp up their dorm rooms but couldn’t change a light bulb if they needed to? That’s their market.

    The whole bs back story about being innovative, and that it just laughable though.

    1. I see the point you are trying to make, but be careful when classifying people.

      I was a frat boy and did in fact pimp my dorm room. I also knew how to change a lightbulb.

      I have BS degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, a MS in aerospace engineering, and a PhD in aerospace engineering. I design navigation systems for spacecraft by day, and nights/weekends I spend hacking things.

  12. I didn’t look at the original Kickstarter, but I think it gets down to whether they gave deceptive or accurate info to investors. From reading some of the arguments above, they would have been above board if they had said something like “we’re trying to get a quantity discount on these things” rather than “we’ve designed/developed this product and we need investors to bring it to market.” If you’re asking somebody to invest in you or your project, you should be forthright with accurate information so they can make an informed decision… otherwise you’re just another profiteering scumbag taking advantage of a well intentioned system for funding small enterprises and projects.

  13. Buyer beware.

    I see no problem here. If it isnt against the rules, those folks have nothing to complain about. This is no different than buying into a kickstarter based of an Arduino or the like.

  14. How strange, his other company ‘Kovin Aquatics’ seems to be selling insanely overpriced waterproof aquarium lighting – his linkdin profile claims he’s an expert at outsourcing and yet he claims that both products are produced in the US. Doesnt help when you can find his models with a quick look over at Alibaba.

    But I guess he really needed the seed money!

  15. Buyer(investor?) beware? Although as I see it there isn’t really investing in Kickstarter projects, the “investments” more like value added donations. A bit of ambiguity on that kickstarter isn’t for starting a business. Without simultaneously using kickstarter to create a direct marketing business to get the product into the hands of those wanting it, why even bother developing it? Not that I’d expect everyone to agree, but as long as the product they deliver to their “investors” performs as it stated how it performs, probably not a scam.

  16. The kicker (pun intended) for me is that right off the bat they say, “…we created the AmbioLight.” Which from any perspective, is pretty much entirely false.

    If they had marketed it as a reselling of existing products, I don’t think there’d be as much complaining (but also probably no backers).

  17. I both get and don’t get the rage. I get more upset when I see established businesses using kickstarter. Like this
    or this. Both are very cool projects, but i don’t think kickstarter is the place for companies like Uber to be collecting money. They treat KS like it’s the place to put something they feel is “risky”. Of course if it’s a hit they’ll gladly collect the profits. I think what needs to happen is that kickstarter needs to decide what they are, and what they want to become. Otherwise they will turn into ebay with people just reselling products and established/big businesses sinking their risks into it.

  18. I also find it funny that not one of the previous comments reads something like “Whatever. This is HaD. I can build one myself AND make it better for a tenth of the cost.”

    In fact, I issue this challenge: Build one of these items for yourself. I mean seriously people, I’m sure many of us are more than capable of building something this simple.

    I would, but the friendly glow of a few 42 inch HD TVs purposed as PC monitors is all the mood lighting I need.

    1. With the cheap availability of RGB LED strips (& associated driver hardware) directly from China it is IMHO a pointless challenge which is why nobody has said they could build one for a tenth the price of the Kickstarter guys.

    2. Thin mylar sheeting, conductive ink, SMT Leds and some glue, then any of several LED Driver circuits – wouldn’t be that hard.

      The problem is cost, both in material and manpower. It would be freaking awesome to successfully build one of these, but far cheaper to purchase already assembled. Then again – this IS hackaday…

  19. WARNING: THE LED STRIPS OFF OF AMAZON/EBAY ARE CRAP. I have bought a lot of led products before and the reason that some of these are 25 and some are $200 is because of the quality it is not a scam.

    Them cutting the product to useable sizes as well as bringing a great product to the attention of a broader audience. If you want to pick on these kids for using the word “create” that is pretty childish. This hardly deserves to be called a scam when so many kickstarter projects are unoriginal.

  20. Loved watching this play out. Tried to misuse crowd sourcing but then crowd sourcing bit back. Notice in their comments page how their only positive backers are very new kickstarter accounts?

    1 of the 2 people behind ambilight according to their website is

    Now, one of his facebook friends is this guy:

    Mysteriously, he has the very same facebook photo as the kickstarter photo used by “Jon Cranston” in kickstarter.

    1. Even more surprising; it seems ‘ol Brandon Aaron Cohen’s Facebook page can no longer be found. Almost as if it was deleted.

      Sure looks legit when you ‘CEO’ suddenly sperg storms off and deletes his profiles. Hope this doesn’t dent his credibility later on… :)

  21. Honestly, what a bunch of babies. Morally wrong my ass. Don’t start telling me that you pay for stuff on kickstarter because you feel you are supporting start ups. You pay for stuff on kickstarter because you want toys. NOBODY EVER FORCED YOU TO BUY THIS. But now, since people did and they are upset because they could have saved $50 somewhere else they all start crying about morality.

    Can someone please explain to me what is the difference between this project and any of these:

    NO, the reason is because this is the exact same thing and these guys all posted something that already existed on kickstarter. If anything what these guys did added value in bringing a not so popular product to the mainstream audience with some cool marketing. I see nothing wrong here.

    1. You are wrong. This isn’t crowdsourced VC. It sure as hell isn’t Escrow Ebay. It’s for funding cool projects and art. Sometimes it’s useful art. Sometimes you get stuff from it. Sometimes you don’t.

      If you want to be “supporting start ups” start a VC firm.

    2. Oh, I dunno. Maybe they actually did a bit of product development, and aren’t reselling something they found on eBay?

      You might have a point if they were exactly the same product (and provided an eBay link).

      1. making a tiny plastic mold to resell the same product does not count as product development, sorry. What you just said shows the serious amount of hypocrisy in this discussion.

      2. Have you ever developed a tiny plastic mold?

        It’s a serious amount of work, and cost a serious amount of cash.

        Plastic injection molding. Google it, dude, and ask manufacturers for quotes.

        Sure, you’ve bunch of people making a similar product (you can also argue every tablet is an iPad knock-off), but that’s substantially different to buying off eBay and repackaging.

        Ambiolight are middlemen, nothing more.

    3. You can’t compare the “ambiolight” to the non-electric audio amplifiers you have specified. For all anybody knows, minor changes to the shape of the amplifier could enhance or deteriorate the sound….but that’s beside the point.

      The reason why everybody is up in arms about the ambiolight is because the ambiolight is just a repackaged elco-lighting strip, as demonstrated by the first set of images the kickstarter had up (they had elco-lighting branding on them)

      It isn’t so much that their product is “similar” to something on the market. It’s more that the product is actually an existing product being resold as a new product.

    1. “Have you ever developed a tiny plastic mold?
      It’s a serious amount of work, and cost a serious amount of cash.

      LOL, seriously I can see you are TOTALLY inexperienced, to even consider stating this.
      Startup tooling can be manufactured VERY CHEAPLY…….
      I have even seen “hand molded” plastic parts.

  22. So maybe the issue here is , that kickstarter , which may originally have “started” as a a startup with a particular set of values in mind have now branched out to support “wider” groups of “designers” .. meaning that this kind of ambiolight straight up corporate style plagiary can happen ..

    I’ve noticed this happening with a lot of startups who held to a more strict set of values with regard to what their site does .. and is supposed to do .. in the beginning of their inception , but quickly “branched” out their values and ideals to reach a larger (not necessary greater) corporate audience.. springs to mind :D

  23. What about Open Hardware? I’ve seen many kickstarter projects that is an Open Hardware design just modified form-factor, that is not hard when ready eagles files are available. Like the ATtiny USB stick.

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