Ractiv Inactive

I adore the idea of Kickstarter, to me it’s like a version of The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent where people vote (with their cash) and you actually get something useful at the end. Normally if I see something exciting I’ll just throw a few dollars into the basic tier donation.

Recently I’ve seen a Kickstarter campaign work incredibly well, bringing back the Paranoia RPG to life. The authors of this have released plentiful communication, added multiple stretch goals and secondary purchases, and actively encouraged audience participation. See kickstarter.com/projects/1990654819/paranoia-rpg.

Unfortunately, they don’t always go this way.

Ractiv (previously Haptix ?) offered the touch+, and fantastic piece of kit for emulating multitouch without any surface. It seemed to use two little webcams in a single box with a special chip to do depth perception. Very clever.

At work we fancied a go of this (having previously been a bit disappointed in the leap motion) and happily one day in October it turned up on our desks. Unfortunately they pulled the alpha driver off their website a few days before but promised the beta one was almost ready. But then nothing.

On Oct 17 I tweeted

“Colleagues are beginning to tease that the Touch+ atop my monitor is a fake box full of sawdust – help me prove them wrong !”

and on Oct 20 they responded

“Don’t worry! We’ll prove them wrong soon. Stay tuned for the update!”.

Some time around Oct 22 (its hard to tell exactly when since they’ve now deleted it) they posted some debug code on their facebook for testing the cameras, I’ve uploaded this to mega for reference. Some people got this working, unfortunately I did not (“Software lock returned -21” – a possible conflict with the macbook facetime camera ?), but it was a step forward. Some of the responses to the posts did suggest people could see the webcams. It also gave a bit of an insight into what was in the box – “eTronVideo BootLoader : vid_1e4e pid_0668”. A bit of googling suggested that this was an eTron chipset eSP870.

On Oct 29 a backer let us know the latest posted to the kickstarter via pastebin indicating :

“We’re really sorry about the late response, it has been all hands on deck as we’re in the final stages of fixing the driver” and “we do think we’re extremely close”

People got irate and started directly tweeting the lead developer Lai Schwe (@Maschinak) who on Nov 16 said “This is the final glitch we’re battling against – a memory leak. Working hard to get it resolved. http://imgur.com/20f6TN8“.

Since then we’ve had nothing but silence (from them at least, not so much from their backers). Any communication via their facebook they delete (I know because I’ve seen them do this to mine) and any queries via their twitter are now ignored.

The biggest disappointment in this though is that the product looked good. Even now I still desperately want to try it. Some – any – responsive from ractiv would be good. Why not open source the driver and let others finish it, its useless without the hardware so they wouldn’t be giving anything away ?

Some people are trying to push back through

Will this stop my using Kickstarter in the future, I’d like to say no. There’s a particularly sexy 3D printer I’ve got my eye on. Maybe I’ll be a bit more choosey, but there was nothing to suggest the Ractiv guys were anything less than professional. Perhaps you just have to invest your money and hope for the best … can’t win ’em all.