First rule of reading anything: if a headline is an interrogative, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This might be the one exception to that rule.
This Kickstarter is actually fairly interesting. Not because it’s an obvious scam, mind you, as there’s very, very little to actually call a scam. It’s noteworthy because it was on track to be a highly successful campaign but it was shut down by the creators just days after its launch.
Before getting to the unsavoriness of this Kickstarter campaign, a little bit of history is in order. Several years ago and before crowd funding was a thing, a designer came up with a rather clever if completely improbable idea: a color picking pen. Simply hold the end of a pen up to an object, press a button, and using technology and/or magic the pen now writes in that color. There are obvious shortcomings in the design like using red, green, and blue ink cartridges for color mixing – a classic case of confusing additive and subtractive color models. Still, this is just a design concept and over the years the idea of a color sensing pen that mixes ink has bounced around the Internet. With enough people willing to throw money at their screens in the hopes of actually getting a product as interesting as this, you just know it’s going to be on Kickstarter sooner or later.
Enter the Scribble Pen. Yes, it’s the same idea as the 5+ year-old color picking pen, with a few of the technical challenges already addressed. They’re using a CMYK (plus White) color model that can theoretically reproduce just about any color, and do so on any color paper. How are they doing this? I have no idea, but the whole campaign is super, super sketchy.
Above you see a screencap of the Scribble Kickstarter on launch day, with $112,000 already in the bank. It has all the markings of a very successful campaign; completely funded in five hours, a slick video, a great story, and wildly popular with the press. They were featured by Huff Po, VentureBeat, most of the Gawker empire, and… wait, Hackaday? How did we end up there?
Oh, this is why. A Hackaday links post where I point out how sketchy their project is. That really doesn’t help them in the, ‘try not to be sketchy’ department.
I’ll be honest. The Scribble pen has been on my radar for a while now, and I’ve been wanting to do the complete deconstruction of this already-failed Kickstarter. Why? Because the specs on this pen are insane.
On the now-cancelled Kickstarter, the specs in the pen are extremely ambiguous, listing the processor inside the pen as simply, ‘an ARM.’ There’s nothing wrong with this, as you can find ARM microcontrollers that will fit on the head of a pin or the body of a pen. The Wayback Machine archive of the Scribble website is a little more specific: they’re planning to use an ARM 9 processor. This is just a guess, but I think they mean ARM9, also known as the kind of processor you would put in a phone, or something that requires a lot of computing power. A color sensing pen, if you can get around the mechanics of dispensing ink in a very small form factor, would never need a processor that powerful. It’s like using a Lamborghini to go to the supermarket.
Actually, no. It’s the complete opposite of picking up some groceries in a Lambo. It’s highly improbable an ARM9 will fit in this pen. It’s like using a dump truck to go to a supermarket.
According to the archive.org cache, the diameter of the Scribble pen is 15mm. The smallest ARM9-based CPU I can find is the Atmel SAM9260, a 217-LFBGA package that is 15mm square. There are references of a 10mm square ARM9 BGA package. Add in the wall thickness of the pen, the board the processor is mounted to, and the Scribble design is really, really close to an impossibility. That’s notwithstanding the absurd choice in processor, or the challenges of dispensing five colors of ink in such a small device.
I held off on posting anything about the Scribble until now because I was waiting for the team to get back to me. I emailed them last Monday, asking them about the apparent change in chip choice between the archive.org cache and the now-defunct Kickstarter. They didn’t get back to me; somewhat surprising because we’re apparently we have coat tails cool enough to ride on. Since then, Kickstarter sent an ultimatum. This is directly from the people behind the Scribble pen:
With your amazing support, we reached and surpassed our initial goal within 5 hours.
In view of the many requests to better see and understand how the Scribble Pen and Scribble Stylus works, we are currently shooting another video in more depth which will be available sometime next week .
However, We received an email from kickstarter dated 08/12/14 requesting a new and more illustrative video within 24 hours, so we had to cancel the project with hopes of restarting it again with a much more detailed video.
Yes, apparently Kickstarter does do some vetting of projects. Scribble will be back again once these guys can shoot some more video. It’s not like you can easily fake this sort of thing. Oh wait. You can.
At the time this Kickstarter was cancelled, the Scribble team was sitting on $366,000, with a few projections saying they would see about $5 Million by the time the campaign was over. I’m actually somewhat impressed the Scribble team didn’t decide to ‘fix it in post’, if you will, and continue the campaign. Don’t worry. They’ll be back, and next time they can legitimately use the Hackaday logo in their campaign.