It had a catchy name, an irresistible backstory, and plenty of Silicon Valley buzz.
So it was no surprise that “Scout,” a device marketed as a real-life version of the “Star Trek” tricorder, made history in 2013 when its manufacturer, the startup Scanadu, raised a record $1.5 million on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo in a matter of weeks to bring it to consumers.
But the story does not have a happy ending. On Tuesday, Scanadu notified its customers that it will shut down the devices next year, saying it must do so to comply with federal regulations.
Customers generally paid between $149 and $269 for the disk-shaped devices. One spent nearly $17,000 on a deal for 100 of them. Now, they will soon be little more than paperweights.
Scout was designed to measure vital signs like body temperature and oxygen saturation of the blood. It automatically uploaded that data to a smartphone, where it could be tracked and shared with the customer’s doctor.
When Scandu started advertising it, Scout wasn’t even fully developed, much less approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which reviews all but very basic medical devices for safety and efficacy. The startup got around that obstacle by selling the devices on Indiegogo while simultaneously enrolling customers in a research study run in collaboration with the Scripps Translational Science Institute.
Customers who pre-order devices on a site like Indiegogo have little recourse if the company fails to deliver it — or if it doesn’t measure up to the marketing pitch. And, indeed, some customers interviewed by STAT last year were unhappy that the version of Scout they received didn’t measure all the vital signs the company had originally advertised. Others complained that the device was hard to use but said it generally worked fine.
They were less forgiving of the pending shutdown of the devices.
While the Indiegogo campaign stated that donations would support “Scanadu’s intent to develop the Medical Tricorder,” many who contributed saw themselves as customers, not investors. They bought the product — and expected it to work.
“You utter scamming frauds!” one customer wrote on Scanadu’s Indiegogo page.
Other customers, who said they were never warned that their devices could be shut down, called for a class action lawsuit or said they had filed complaints with Indiegogo.
Hey @scanadu, bricking my device is NOT what you sold me in your indiegogo campaign. Suggest you come up with a Plan B.
— Richard Kaufmann (@richardkaufmann) December 13, 2016
— Betty Widerski (@bettywiderski) December 13, 2016
My Scanadu will "cease to function" after less than 2 years? So I paid to send you my health data and I'm left with nothing? @scanadu
— Jason O'Neill (@jay_oneill) December 14, 2016
The company’s email to customers on Tuesday, first reported by TechCrunch, said that “FDA regulations require that we deactivate” the devices at the formal conclusion of the Scripps study this coming May. At that point, the device “will cease to function,” Scanadu wrote.
It added that it plans to publish the results of the study in a peer-reviewed journal and that it will use the data it collected to inform the development of future projects.
The company had been in the process of seeking FDA approval for the device in recent months, but Tuesday’s announcement suggested that quest was unsuccessful.
Scanadu did not return a request for comment. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo said the agency “cannot confirm or deny or comment on any pending enforcement actions.”
Scanadu’s cofounders, the married couple Walter and Sam De Brouwer, left the company earlier this year.
This story has been updated with comment from the FDA.