A few days ago, we caught wind of SOAP, a Kickstarter project for an Android-based home automation router. With a quad-core ARM, quad gigabit Ethernet ports, 802.11ac, SATA, and every radio under the sun – all for $100 (sans display, $170 with display), it seemed too good to be true. At the time, it probably was: the images from the PCB prototype were taken from [Bunnie Huang]’s open source laptop, there weren’t enough Ethernet ports for a router, and the hardware just seemed all wrong.
The guys behind SOAP have decided to respond to these accusations by posting a huge update on their Kickstarter page and answering a few questions from me. Interview follows below.
HaD: There’s a BOM/cost analysis breakdown for the Essentials package (the SOAP sans display) that puts the total cost at about $130. This is the reward for pledging at the $100 level. How accurate is this cost analysis, and how do you plan on meeting that reward level?
SOAP: This cost analysis that you mention is very accurate. We will not profit on the early release pricing of $60.00 we have taken the loss leader pricing to attract backers and press (and we think we have done a good job). We are working with a large router manufacturer and this is really the link that makes the pricing possible without them we couldn’t do this.
HaD: You’re using a Quad Core Freescale i.MX processor for SOAP, and putting a four port Gigabit router in there. The Quad core i.MX chips only have one Gigabit port, and that’s limited to 470 Mbps. How are you solving this problem, and what are you using as a MAC/PHY?
SOAP: First off let me state that we are very aware of the CPU limitations and we have done a lot of work on finding a solution and we do have a unique solution. We have support from a big player in the router industry that has offered us a unique solution that we have been working on to bypass this issue. We will post more on this after our trip to San Jose. This is our fallback method and yes its benchmarks are not as pretty as we want them but they are getting there and we feel with enough tweaks we can get this to decent level.
This is from our layout guy: We are planning I.mx processor’s gigabit port will be connected to external IC working as a switch. 1Gb ethernet -> 1 to 4 switch -> 4x Gb Ethernet ports. Possible http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/tnetx4090.pdf. Use 4 ports from there plus put RGMII Ethernet transceiver from Marvell for each ETH port and we will have on board Ethernet switch.
HaD: What WiFi chipset/chipsets are you using? Will that/they be able to do 802.11ac at full speed, and how are you doing this with (I think) only one antenna on the updated board images?
SOAP: The speeds have varied greatly on the chipset and how buggy the software was for the day but we have clocked speeds over 1 gigabyte per second and we will continue to develop this further to achieve maximize speeds this is where our new Union with the guys over at Droidifi will help.
In our prototype we tested Avastar 88W8864, Broadcom 4360 , and a couple more that failed to actually work. We didn’t get those all functioning like we would have wanted as there is little support for android and router chipsets to date. We demo with a Broadcom chipset.
We want to use Quantenna QAC2300 but at current funding we will be using the Broadcom we have received a lot of suggestions from our backers and a new big player behind us that thinks they have the right match we are waiting to announce this after our meeting in San Jose.
We have one antenna on the most current design but we are planning on adding two more for the final design. We didn’t place them on the most recent design because we are waiting to see how much funding we get to finalize the wifi chipset. We didn’t want antenna design that worked best with a Broadcom when we switch to Marvel or Quantenna.
HaD: What is the status of the software? Do you have a repo somewhere that people could look over?
SOAP: We have been working with a new player from the older kickstarter project called Droidifi. We will be working with them on the software. This is a something we haven’t been able to announce till we lock it down but you are the first to know about this union. Check out our update later today.
HaD: Finally, do you have a functional prototype with the quad-core i.MX, four Ethernet ports, and WiFi? Can we see a video?
SOAP: If you mean a mass production ready device that can be used by an end user then no. We have a solid functioning proof of concept prototype. We have a lot of Demo videos of our POC that show what we have developed so far. We have to have the current PCB design manufactured to get down to the more rigorous testing and qualifying. All the specs listed on our kickstarter are what we currently are planning and we hope to fulfill the tech specs.
HaD: There are some other questions in the Kickstarter comments section, but honestly I don’t care about how many Twitter followers you have.
SOAP: Twitter was our marketing company. We thought people actually were following us but we have since found out that half of them are not real. Check this out though.
All in all we understand how ambitious this project looks and we also know that it technology development can run into roadblocks and things but we want to be clear we are not a scam and we are quite aware where these attacks have originated. We will continue to work hard on this project, we will not be running off to Costa Rica and we plan on seeing everyone at CES next year.
The TL;DR for everyone without an attention span:
Yes, the $100/$170 price is too good to be true. It’s called a loss leader to generate interest. This part was a success. The SOAP guys are partnering with the DroidFi guys for the operating system. The Gigabit Ethernet will probably work, and the WiFi is limited by *nix chipset support. No complete functional prototypes yet.
So there you go. It’s not the ideal update with the SOAP crew showing off a shipping container of units ready to be shipped, but the project isn’t in as bad a shape as I originally thought.
59 thoughts on “SOAP Drama: An Interview With The SOAP Creators”
Nice! Now try and get an interview with Mu Optics…
and find out they’re not a scam either. please.
I wish the TLDR was at the top of the article…
That sort of defeats the purpose of too long didn’t read, more like too lazy to scroll.
I am still not convinced since the datasheet you just listed says in the second paragraph “The TNETX4090 provides eight 10-/100-Mbit/s interfaces and one 100-/1000-Mbit/s interface”. So (if they are using that IC) this cannot be a 5 port 1Gbps switch.
Datasheet is from 1999. TI’s link to the part: http://www.ti.com/product/tnetx4090
The big title of the webpage say:
(OBSOLETE) 0/8/1 Ethernet ThunderSWITCH II
Also under “Buy Now”
>Buy from Authorized Distributors: Not Available
tnetx4090 price and stock
No results were found for your search term.
Yes, you can use as few ports as you want on a GigE switch, but you are wasting your money when you can easily get 5 ports ones. As for Gigabit Ethernet switches, most of them require NDA to even give you a datasheet with pinout.
>The Gigabit Ethernet will probably work,
no noo noooo
what he said is “yes we know about limitations, we will go around them by ….. using 1Gbit port that is hardware limited to 470 Mbps with 4 port Gigabit switch …”
> q:do you have a functional prototype? anything working? anything AT ALL that is not fake?
This slower 470 Mbps will have to link to the cpu, which will be routing all of the wireless traffic. Effectively lowering the wireless rate to less than 470 Mbps.
Neat project, however I think they’re at least 6 months too early for a Kickstarter.
I’d almost gave them the benefit of the doubt up until they said they were partnering with a router manufacturer. Yeah right that’s BS.
These guys are lying. HAD you’ve been had.
It’s not just routing is limited to 470Mbps. No matter how many hub port it has connected to, it still have only one interface, making it a router with basically no exit to the Internet(unless you’re on a 56k modem connected through UART).
This is essentially what most of the plastic consumer grade wireless “routers” do these days since the WRT54 generation. The WAN is just a port on a different VLAN than the LAN ports.
Ingress: WAN -› Switch -› CPU Ethernet Rx -› Routing tables etc -› CPU Ethernet Tx -› Switch -› LAN (similarly for Egress)
Now the fun/nasty part is that both direction of the Ethernet port are being used to route a packet, so if you are using say 200Mbps receive traffic on that Ethernet interface, your are also using up 200Mbps on the transmit side. Even if the CPU routing weren’t a limiting factor, this type of router would at most have 500Mbps limit minus overhead.
I am assuming symmetrical data rate routing on wired interface. If the WiFi is going through a separate interface (very likely), then you don’t have to do that.
I haven’t followed this topic closely, but to me this reads a bit like:
“How does the pricing work?”
“Let me try to connect ourselves with someone who has wads of cash to make this plausible, after I can’t deny that the math does not work out. I can’t name them, though, as their lawyers would otherwise tear us apart”
“Do you have any software?”
“No, but let me mention some group that has done something in this direction, so you are busy checking whether this scarecrow is hollow or not. You know we wouldn’t be able to now and I need a decoy.”
“Are you aware of a specific problem?”
“Yes, but I think we will be able to solve it in practice by weaseling around the problems in the same way I am weaseling around your questions.”
“How about 802.11ac?”
“Let me drop some names and mention someone supposedly trustworthy is behind us, again.”
“Does anything work outside your head?”
“Surely, of course. Though I can’t show you, because then I would have to admit it actually does not. And I don’t want that, to be honest.”
The little slip with measuring gigaBYTES of throughput… let’s just blame it on a typo on the editor’s side.
Yup! “So how about those fake PCB pictures?” “We’ll tell you later, we’re off to San Jose”.
Except you didn’t even ASK most of the controversial, more lying-based questions. Have they set the lawyers on you, Brian, or are you just too nice to accuse people of being scammers?
Mentioning a few brand names, and promising everything will be alright later, is something I could do with a components catalogue in front of me, and I haven’t invented a miraculous console-thing either.
Still stinks, and it’s suspicious they concentrated on evading the questions, evoking mysterious third-parties, and making completely vague promises for some time in the future, rather than take the opportunity to make themselves clear like the honest, misunderstood guys they are.
If I was in the market for one of these, I wouldn’t give this lot a penny. This interview was a bit useless, honestly. Either damn them or exonerate them, either would be helpful, this is just more of the hot air and evasion people complained about.
Wasn’t the issue of the Novena board layouts on their Kickstarter page asked/addressed? IMO I felt that was one of the most pressing points, as the inclusion of those photos you recreated (and their subsequent backtracking and removal of them) on their page was a big indicator of something not quite legit.
I see that the gushing news article that they linked to in their update avoids this issue, referring to the other evidence the original reddit link goes into additionally, but ignores the original elephant in the room.
Personally I’d be happy if they just said “yes, we used those photos. Our bad. We got ahead of ourselves.” or something along those lines rather than just ignoring that they did it…
I got a bit worked up about this, can we not have call-to-action type posts here?
I don’t believe this device will be made by them. I design hardware for my job. I usually design on 4-layered PCBs. This design will require more layers than 4. Demoing on eval/demo boards can be done by anyone, doesn’t mean they are even close to a working device. Most PCBs go through several revisions before having production ready boards. Not to mention the RF that will be on this device, they failed to speak about FCC certification.
If you use already FCC certified modules hardware, you do not need to get FCC approval. This is why manufacturers use modules in the first place.
(yes, I am aware there are a couple “but…”s. But that is a general response.)
If they use UHF RFID, they should get FCC approval. When a RF protocol is country-specific (as for UHF RFID), you need to get approval for each of them.
Unless they are using a module that ALREADY has FCC or whatever regulatory approval. Did you miss that part?
I’ve been working in the industry a very long time.. this is why smaller manufactures use modules instead of spinning their own solutions. That’s the entire purpose of the RF module industry.
They are using multiple rf modules on one pcb. Even though each module is FCC certified this still requires FCC certification.
Now if they are buying an entire OEM finished product and slapping a label on the case, they might be able to get away from this.
If they are talking about Ethernet switches, processors and doing their board layout, they still need FCC approval as this thing has digital circuits and thus falls under part 15 class A or B Digital Device.
Using pre-certified radio modules for ISM make you life a bit easier under Subpart C—Intentional Radiators.
(k) Digital device. (Previously defined as a computing device). An unintentional radiator (device or system) that generates and uses timing signals or pulses at a rate in excess of 9,000 pulses (cycles) per second and uses digital techniques. […]
Note: Computer terminals and peripherals that are intended to be connected to a computer are digital devices.
I call BS 110% because of many reasons but mainly because of their twitter answer. If anyone says they are using twitter for marketing but recently found out half of the followers they have are fake are 100% liars. the only reason you have fake followers is black hat SEO plain and simple. They were using those followers to pump up google search results so do not believe that.
sorry that dog wont hunt
I call BS as well. Most, if not all of their responses hinged on their “3rd parties”. These guys should run for political office as they gave answers straight out of a politician’s play book.
Good for them for getting coverage on HaD.
Notice that they didnt take HaD up on their offer to try out the prototype. Still seems like a scam to me.
That’s not true. Here’s just about the only things I edited out of the email:
…when its ready.
I would like to make Hack a Day the first receipiant of the first functional prototype of my new cold fusion + perpetual motion machine. It’s almost done.. I swear!! See how legit I am. Oh there is also this big pile of stinky stuff in our office that we could use some help shoveling. Please come help!
Just to be clear (as if it’s not clear enough already), you at Hack a Day are dangerous close to promoting these guys. You really really need to practice your neutral reporting skills unless you really are intending to take responsibility for what appears to be at best another kickstarter floundering way over their heads, and at worst an outright scam.
Still no prototype offer, no explanation of the screenshots, and “oh we found a way to work around the Ethernet problem, we’ll tell you later”.
In other words they are trying to figure it out.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well that’s time for some ass kicking.
I like your version of the “Fool me once…” saying better!
How about George Bush JR’s. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…….Fool me can’t fool me again.
You do realize that they skating around every question you asked them, right? It’s called indirection. That’s how scammers succeed…. they have a question for everything but it always asks for deferred time.
Nope, not buying it. Figuratively or literally.
*answer for everything
Microsoft selling the XBox at a loss so they can sell you games is a “loss leader”. Selling a wifi router below cost with no followup sales channel is not a loss leader – it’s just a loss.
Besides which, isn’t the whole point of kickstarter to raise funds? If they don’t need the money – since they’re making a loss on every sale – why are they running one?
I just saw lots of questions completely sidestepped with “someone else is doing that bit but I won’t tell you who”.
I really don’t get one thing: why do they want to have a router there? My router is a box that stays hidden away with all the cables it requires. Why would it want my router to be attached to a screen that i need to look at, placed in a visible location?
And let’s face it most people already have a router, why should they add it in their product?
The only thing they had to do is a box which connects to the network and has all the radios/interfaces for all the bunch of IOT products + SOFTWARE. Let me choose what size of screen i want: maybe i am happy with a 7 inch tablet in some locations, i can use an old 3.5″ phone somewhere else and yes the main control panel on my desk should be 10″. With a tablet I only need to plug it in and I could take it away. If you put a router in it there is at least one more cable plugged in, the cable that brings the internet.
Concerning the price everyone has been focusing on the BOM. Because that alone was very implausible.
Somehow I guess everyone has been assuming that the SOAP Team will work for free. This might be true, bit if you look at their Team (bottom of their site on Kickstarter): they have “Brandon” who is “creative” and has “marketing experience”, Dave who is going to “handle the everyday business aspects” and then there is “Alex who is  the main software engineer”.
So they have one single engineer on their team who is going to do software. All the other people who might be working in the background, will probably need to be paid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an electrical engineer in the states makes an average of $85,350 per year. Thus, if you have three engineers working full time on this project for halve a year (which I think is much more than over optimistic) that would cost about $120,000 which is just the amount that they have raised. (Oh, and since these engineers aren’t employed by them, but by an external company, this company is also going to want their share) What I’m getting at here is that even if they can finance their BOM, how are they going to pay all the people that have the skill set that they apparently lack?
Many Kickstarter projects imho are only financially viable because the team behind them has the skill set to finish the product on their own and are willing to work for a few dollars or even for free. This is not a possibility here, because, as the SOAP team admitted, most of their work needs to be done by external engineers.
Where are they going to get the founds to pay for all of that and give away the router for much cheaper, while they still seem to be living with their parents?
I do not think that any start up is going to give away products for half the price just to “attract backers”. That is something a big company with massive founds can do, but no small start up that is going to start with $0.
I do not think that the goal of this project was to scam people. I agree that they were just a little bit over ambitious. But now it is getting out of hand a little. They should give their backers a somewhat plausible break down if the costs anticipated and explain how they are going to pay for all of that. Heck, they have one guy who is only doing business, let him write a “business plan”.
If it is a product that use some new parts, then those prices would drops over a relative long (say 3-5 years) lifetime and also the production yields would improve some what as they learn what not to do along the way.
This is assuming a company that don’t want to make money in the early product phase in exchange for an established user base. e.g.; Game console companies where the game producers pays them money to develop games and may be distribution.
High end wireless routers doesn’t exactly have that type of lifetime if it is meant to keep up with the ever changing WiFi related standards.
R&D is a fixed cost. If their business model is to use kickstarter to get non kickstarter investors and to convince Best Buy to sell their product, then the kickstarter is not a bad idea. Although, I think hackaday isnt making the project become more of a reality…
Still, it’s fairly obvious their plan is to fake it until they get money to pay someone elese to make it. That’s not to say a lot of successful businesses didn’t start that way. But it’s definately not honest and the risk is placed on everyone but them.
The problem is that I do not see where they should get money from. I do not think that any bank is going to give them $120,000 or more and I do not see them contributing that much of personal money. If the have gotten venture capital from somewhere they should disclose that in their kickstarter.
Oh and can someone with more knowledge about networking please fill me in about the plausibility of their proposed features?
For example the “Soap Parental Controls” (see ):
Do you think they will do deep packet inspection or just setup an http proxy on the router (as indicated by their now removed answer to a FAQ question )? Does anyone know if the imx6 can handle the workload at Gigabit Ethernet speed?
The “Soap Flypaper” (see ):
How would you “trap potential hackers”? How can you “trap” a hacker? Can anyone translate this from marketing speech?
The “Soap Ninja” (see ):
“…it’s actually a mode that makes it possible for you to browse the Internet while making sure that your network remains hidden from all other unconnected devices…”
What do you make from this? Should a router not be as secure as possible at all times?
The “Soap Spy” (see ):
This is actually the one that amuses me most. As they say: “… you would be able to see in real-time what users from your network are doing. Through Soap, you can actually stream their screen over its touch display! ” How do you see the screen of connected network devices? Are they planing on writing maleware for every device that will connect to the network? Or will everyone just be forced to have a password less VNC server running at all times? What if your kids turn it off.\
I would be really interested in your take on deciphering their feature list.
The spy feature is what tipped me off, being able to see a list of accessed urls/ips, I can understand, but outright streaming? That would imply they have found some HUGE security hole, which would have to span accross EVERY operating system. I find that very ahrd to believe, especially once you add in all the different ways linux can write to a display. And the answer of not including linux because it isn’t a “standard” desktop os is out,since they mentioned it several times elsewhere. what’s really scary about this is thar when I asked them about it, they informed me that the feauture was already working, but was created “by a third party.” What? Anyways, out of everything I read, the only feature that actually made sense, and seemed feasable, was the ninja mode, which ( in my interpritation) just turns on and off the ssid broadcast, preventing freeloades from recognizing there is even a network. Not that that would stop a real network cracker. Ok, I think I’ve ranted enough. Just had to get that off my chest.
1) Soap Parental Controls
Any packet related features are fine like Deep Pack Inspection, but a processor like this setup for 4port Gigabit would most likely take up 15-20% MIPS (relative) from the CPU alone, not to mention the speed on the port would be most likely around 100Mb/s if your lucky. It would be like using your phone with VLANs setup for WAN and LAN, which even with a decent x86 processor with a dedicated NIC would have a hell of a time, head over to pfSense forums and you’ll find out.
2) Soap Flypaper
There is no such thing, and won’t be for quite awhile, everything made to prevent something malicious from happening are only targeted to well known and static payloads, so pretty much it’ll stop your mom, but anyone with any skills at all, that tech is AI, something that can dynamically sense and calculate the approriate response, light years ahead of now.
3) The “Soap Ninja
Probably a stupid way of saying hidding your SSID, remember it says unconnected, if it said connected, that would be virtual subnets for each device, or isolation, which is used by most well designed WiFi APs in businesses.
4) The “Soap Spy”
On SOAP SPY: I did email the team about this, and their reply was that this would require a piece of software (based on vnc or something like that) to be installed on the target computer, and that it would have to be installed by hand (you couldn’t useit to view the screen of a piggy backer.) So that does clear up that feature.
I’ve submitted further questions about things like plagerism of the laptop photos and how exatily they end up making monney off the “loss leader” without a follow up product, but have yet to hear back from them.
The answer to every question is “someone else that we can’t name is handling that”. I could have written their answers. Why aren’t these mysterious third parties getting together and making a killing on building this thing? Why would they give “unique solutions” that don’t currently exist on the market to a bunch of random guys for a kickstarter project (along with absorbing the associated massive R&D costs)?
In my opinion, this interview hurt them more than helped them.
Has I already written, the more they do the more il look like a SCAM. At this time the KS campaign is loosing some money every day but at a slow rate. They will do it. So as scammers their best strategy should be to shut up and wait the few days left. Their scam should be profitable over 100,000$
I’ll treat SOAP as God:
Believe when I see them :)
From their KS pages FAQ
>>> Question: Does soap have USB 3.0
>>> Answer: Yes
So somehow when their CPU (Freescale i.MX6 Quad Cortex A9 Quad-core processor) can only handle 400Mbps throughput total (receive+transmit) they are now shoving 5 Gbps (USB3.0) about somewhere (/dev/null, or maybe there is a new device /dev/scam)
The really funny thing to me is that all answers to all questions in their FAQ section are basically “Yes”
Oh and almost forgot that CPU only supports USB 2.0 – from the datasheet:
— One High Speed (HS) USB 2.0 OTG (Up to 480 Mbps), with integrated HS USB PHY
— Three USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) hosts:
– One HS host with integrated High Speed PHY
– Two HS hosts with integrated HS-IC USB (High Speed Inter-Chip USB) PHY”
Can someone smell SCAM? Gheeez
So they’re *actually* con artists rather than ignoramuses.
Con artists double-down, as we see here.
Ignoramuses become at least willing to discuss the possibility of failure.
Still no prototype which is disingenuous as fuck, no matter how you want to look at it.
Best of luck to the backers of this project.
The concept sounds nice, just like perpetual motion generators. Those guys sell promises too.
Just the kind of hard hitting questions and critical thinking I would expect from a journalism major /sarc
The product still stinks… A LOT. This post is probably just increasing their scam profit (unless you’re doing all that on purpose…).
I suspect that this post is to prevent hackaday from being sued, by scammers of all people.
I demand an explanation for the plagiarism of Bunnie’s laptop. That is the first question that should have been asked.
Check your sources before posting. Droidifi is not teaming up with SOAP regardless of what they say. I emailed droidifi and here was the response: http://pastebin.com/evpdrEWQ
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