и наконец что-то похожее на investigative journalism
The Skarp Laser Razor is a perfect recipe for a crowdfunding disaster. A brilliant idea. Viral appeal. Millions of dollars. Bubbling controversy. And no way to end but utter disaster.
In case you haven't caught the alarmingly credulous coverage that's been all over the internet, the Skarp Laser Razor was a Kickstarter project with a tantalizing promise. Shave with this laser, and you'll never need to buy blades again. Water-resistant, battery-powered, the size of a normal razor: The pitch promises everything short of eternal life, while keeping the technical details of the device incredibly vague.
And the pitch is great, at least in its ability to promise something that is really genuinely cool. I mean laser razor. The catch of course is that the Skarp Laser Razor—as pitched—does not exist, and probably never will. After the crowdfunding campaign raised over $4,000,000 against promises of laser razors shipping in March of 2016, Kickstarter canceled the whole thing and refunded backers, emailing out a notice that the campaign "is in violation of our rule requiring working prototypes of physical products that are offered as rewards." And in doing so, the site gave up its five percent share ($200,000) of the profits. Smart call.
That should have been the end of it, but lo and behold, the Skarp Laser Razor showed up on IndieGogo. What's more it showed up as a "flex-funding" campaign, a flavor of crowd-funding that lets Skarp keep the money even if they don't meet their goal. But Skarp did. In just one day, the campaign blew through its $160,000 ask and is continuing to rise. At the time of this writing, it's up to $235,000. Fortunately it's not up into the millions, at least not yet.
Against all odds, people still believe in this thing. So let's get into why this garbage piece of vaporware is a disaster waiting to happen if it ever happens at all.
The Skarp Laser Razor should seem shifty as soon as you take a minute to think about it. Why crowdfunding? Only $160,000? Why is there no demonstration in the pitch video? Why do they all have beards?
Following the Kickstarter ban, the folks at Skarp Technologies released a video of a "working" prototype. Sure it's underwhelming, and very carefully framed in a way that would hide extra wiring or an external power source, but it cuts hair.
So I reached out to Professor Richard Quimby of Worcester Polytechnic Institute—the director of theIPG Photonics Laboratory and expert on lasers and fiber optics—for his thoughts and opinions on the design and basic concept. Turns out that the science, while vague and mostly left to inference, is nottotal garbage.
The sole bit of technical information that Skarp offers about its design, is that the razor uses a fiber optic cable to contain the laser. When a hair hits the laser, the laser flashes out and cuts the hair. This basic principle is sound, in theory.
"To absorb a lot of light energy in a small area (which is what you need for cutting anything), you need not only a high optical power, but also a tightly focused beam," Professor Quimby told me over email. "This means that the laser light must be concentrated with a lens into a very small spot, like a magnifying glass focusing light from the sun onto a leaf to burn it. I think this is probably a critical aspect of the Skarp design. If you take even a modestly powered laser and focus it to a very small spot—say around 10 micrometers—then you get a lot of concentrated energy, which could burn through a piece of hair."
So yes, that demo is not some crazy hoax. The Skarp Laser Razor can totally cut hair. What's more, is that it's probably not at risk of blinding you either. The little flashes of laser light that burst out from the fiber aren't focused, so they probably don't run the risk of searing your retinas the way a laser pointer might.
But that's about where the good news ends. This design—while it does cut hair—appears to have a fatal flaw. It can only cut one hair at time. Where a traditional razor can cut hair with every lateral point on its blade, the laser razor's entire length of fiber can only focus on a single hair at a time.
On its IndieGogo page, Skarp handwaves this failing of the prototype by blaming the inefficiency on the quality of the optic fiber:
Many have asked us to show a closer shave with the prototype shaver, and we would love to, but can't. Here is why.The prototype in the demo video can't cut much closer because the hand-made fiber in the prototype breaks when lightly bouncing it off the skin. It's made of glass and is very thin. It also can't be mounted with the necessary support to prevent that. The hand drawn fiber that you see cutting hair in the videos has an un-even surface that doesn't uniformly couple the laser light into the hair over the whole cutting region. Your support will allow us order the new factory made fiber. Please see the time line in the campaign.
But according to Professor Quimby, it's likely the real problem is inherent to the design. "This is difficult to assess without the detailed design," he writes. "The Skarp folks are not willing to give details that would allow independent assessment, because they don't want to disclose their IP. But I can see problems with a practical device, because a low power laser that would be safe could only be focused to one spot at a time."
"It's not like a blade that cuts through some area of the face—this is a point-by-point cutting process. So you could slide the laser razor sideways to let the single focused point cut through one hair after another, but then you'd need to move the razor forward, and repeat the sideways motion. This would be a slow and inconvenient process, and I'm not surprised that they haven't yet come up with a demonstration to show actual shaving yet."
So a laser razor that slices through a forest of beard-hair with the same ease and speed of a normal razor? Don't bet on it. When I contacted Skarp with these concerns, they declined to elaborate on the design or refute the criticism specially.
But that's just the half of it
Even setting the science aside, the Skarp Laser Razor project is awash in red flags. Specifically, Skarp claims their razor will ship in March of 2016, which defies the laws of physics almost as much as its promises of what the laser razor can do.
As of 2012, 84 percent of Kickstarter's top projects had shipped late. That includes projects as simple asa pen (three months late), some underwear (three months late), and a bluetooth speaker (half a year late). Things go wrong. Materials come in at a lower quality than expected, simple processes like laser engraving take longer than planned. These sort of delays are practically routine, especially for first-time companies that don't have tried-and-true manufacturers and supply lines. Crowdfunding projects face a while host up uphill battles you wouldn't even think to be worried about. And that's for simple devices in established product categories. These are things people know how to make.
In 2013, "Une Bobine" creator Jon Fawcett told Co.Design about the chaotic moments just after the runaway success of his Kickstarter campaign for a simple flexible phone stand. With 15 years of experience in manufacturing, he was prepared:
"We were basically ready to go. It'd be pretty dangerous if you weren't … And that's probably why you see some of these products fail miserably. Because they don't truly know how much it's going to cost for production."
Fawcett eventually scaled up and spent some $50,000 on injection molds in order to meet demand, but still dealt with myriad challenges. And this is for what was essentially a metal-coated phone-charging cable.
The Skarp Laser on the other hand, is a first-of-its-kind device. The special optical fiber that will ostensibly make the final razor work better than its horrible prototype? It's never even been made before. Its design has never been tested. As Skarp shruggingly mentions on its IndieGogo page:
The special optical fiber we are ordering with your support is the first of its kind. Everything first time can have un-known [sic] risks. ... The new fiber design has an extremely hard surface. We expect it to take several years to wear it out with normal use, but that can't be tested until we have made it.
Yet Skarp's "Manufacturing Timeline" says that fiber production scheduled a mere month before estimated delivery. Even ignoring other huge question marks—current laser hair removal devices are considered class II medical devices, which means they are subject to premarket review by the FDA, for instance—delivery in March of 2016 seems nigh on impossible. Has Skarp not realized? Or does it not care?
I reached out to Skarp for comment specifically in regards to concerns with its design and production schedule, I received the following response. Capitalization Skarp's:
Skeptical you say? get in line!
lots of people are trying to figure out our achievement. We are happy to let them keep speculating. The problem with [Professor Quimby] or anybody else expressing their opinion is that they don't have all the necessary information to make claims regarding the performance of the Skarp Razor.
Final production of the fiber will start in Feb. But we will develop the pre-form over the next few months.
Fair enough! I do not know the ins and outs of Skarp's plans. Maybe it does have a magic bullet that will make this all work, some as-yet-unrevealed update to the design that solves all the prototypes problems in an instant. I don't begrudge innovation, and no one should.
But it's an indictment as well as a defense. Maybe I can't prove the final product won't work, but Skarp hasn't proven it can. All the while taking money from donors while offering them the promise of a device that hasn't been demonstrated to work as claimed and will almost certainly not arrive on time.
I also contacted Kickstarter, which expanded on its decision to can the project:
What we determined is that while the creators of this project have a proof of concept, it can't be described as a working prototype. When evaluating a working prototype of a device, we would look at, among other things, how well it matches up with the description of the device on the project page, and whether its form factor is in line with the anticipated form factor of the final device.
It's a lesson Kickstarter learned back in 2012, when it made moves to defend its users from campaigns that weren't just taking money for snake oil, but taking money for the promise of snake oil down the line.
Maybe come March 2016, by some miracle, I'll be eating my words and we'll be on the cusp of the laser-shaving revolution, in all its glory. Or maybe someone else will do it right. But for the time being, all the evidence about the Skarp Laser Razor points to delays and disappointment like we've seen so many times before.
Please, don't spend a cent until Skarp proves it has something sharper than a prototype that barely works.
Update: Dr. Christopher Zachary—Professor & Chair at UCI and advisor to Skarp—responded to a request for comment. In a phone call, Zachary defended the science behind the Skarp Laser Razor.
"The science is very strong. I'm excited about it for these guys. I think it's going to be a winner, of course you never know," Zachary told me. "People ask me how well does it work, that's why we want to do the studies. ... It'll go through the University of California Irvine and IRB. It's going to be a rigorous side-by-side."
In a subsequent email, Zachary took specific issue with some of Professor Quimby's observations:
Just reviewed Quimby's comments … I must say that his assumptions are incorrect … that this device uses a focused light to cut hair …. but to be fair to him he has not had the advantage maybe of seeing the type of fiber cladding used, does not know the laser wavelength used nor the relevant chromophore present on all hairs that is responsible for this discrete cutting event.
The inventors (Paul Binun and Morgan Gustavsson) have a strong track record of invention, IPL, TRASER, are not prone to exaggeration, and have a strong scientific background. I would have no interest in working with them otherwise.
Their insistence that this should go through formal IRB approved clinical studies here at UC Irvine is consistent with their honorable intentions.
Of course in the meantime Skarp Technologies—of which Zachary is not a part of but just an advisor to—is still actively accepting money for a product that does not yet exist and has not been proven to work as advertised.
The theoritical possiblity of hair cutting highly focused and high power laser beam does not mean that what we see on a video is NOT a pure hoax with a heated wire. In all likeness it is still a hoax, simple trick. And the whole SKARP project premise is entirely false.
The specific wavelength targeting chromophores in all sorts of hair - black, red, gray, - allowing to bypass the requirement to concentrate hight power beam and make a "cut" instead of a burn - is just one place where SKARP claims are turning into complete pseudo-scientific bullshit. If such a wavelenth exists, we are all having it every day, as sunlight has every electromagnetic wavelength from deep infrared to far ultraviolet. The fact that the hairs are not destroyed even after years of exposure to the sun proves that the claim is simply a load of bullshit.
If you take time to read SKARP original patent for the laser razor, you'd find a mention of not one, "secret" wavelenghts (try to patent a light wavelength!), but a few, that are possibly better absorbed by the various hair molecules. OK, lets assume that one of them is truly magic. Still, it is just a wavelenth of a light - visible or infrared, there is nothing in it that makes it a death ray for the hair. OK, here comes a laser.
By somehow converting the "magic wavelength" it into a laser beam makes it sound more plausable, again, considering what lasers are good for - high concentration of light radiation per square nanometre per nanosecond, focused on hair and hair alone; i.e. high powered short impulses specifically focused with an uttermost precision - which SKARPers claim are not the reqirements. Full logical circle done.
No matter how you try to muddle the issue by adding a very special optic fibre with an ultraspecial cladding, and adding indirect references to Frustrated Total Internal Reflection effect it does not change a thing for better. It only makes it harder to concentrate all the power of a beam on specific hair, nothing more. If a laser beam is travelling within a strand of fibre optic, it mostly stays there. If you put a hair into contact with it, then yes, some small part of it would escape (providing your optic fibre has been properly constructed) and some radiant energy will be transferred to the hair and some reflected back or radiated to the air - if the hair is not dark enough. But no more than the laser had originally. In fact, much less than that. Fibre does not add anything to the cutting ability, which is already not there in the first place.
Add to that a requirement to focus the beam so it fits into a single optic fibre strand (half a human hair thick), - which normally takes a bulky optic system with cooling etc - plus a requirement to have a laser that runs on a single AAA battery for hours - plus a requirement to have an optic fibre both ultra thin and virtually unbreakable - and you have just multiplied the scientific absurdities by technical impossibilities.
I am sure every SKARPer has some exit strategy, to get out of this project on some flimsy excuse. Say, they could not reproduce the unique fibre with uniqe cladding that was "cutting the hair" in the commercial factory as opposed to their own lab (which is in some secret location, I suppose, as their postal address is just well, postal.
SKARP TECHNOLOGIES, 1000 BRISTOL STREET NORTH, UNIT 17, NEWPORT BEACH, CA, 92660, UNITED STATES
It is also the address of:
The Mail Room Plaza Npt (FedEx Authorized ShipCenter)
1000 Bristol St N, Suite 17
Newport Beach, California 92660
Money would be untraceable, I suppose, and so Mr. Gustaffson, the inventor of many useless things (do your own search in patents and see them all, very funny).
Dr. Zachary is seemingly transiting from being a California dermatologist, earlier bloated on an easy money. to a complete quack. Sure, the industry that is currently shrinking with the financial crisis, as less and less people have millions to burn on their ugly wrinkled faces, and Dr. Zachary is not getting any younger, so no more champagne-and-coke parties with bimbos, which is sad.