Hey everyone! Development is officially kicked off in full force, and we have a lot to report! A few housekeeping items to get out of the way first:
We'll be sending out a survey in the next two weeks to collect shipping information and t-shirt selection information (size, style, etc.). We should be receiving Kickstarter funds this week, so we'll be able to give our t-shirt printer the go ahead once we collect everyone's information!
We have a new Fathom team member! We're so excited to introduce Chris Seto!
Chris will be managing the Fathom One beta program. He'll be crucial in collecting and managing beta user feedback so we can truly optimize the user experience. If you have any questions regarding the coming beta program, he's your guy. He can be reached at email@example.com if you have any questions. Speaking of the beta program...
We're currently wrapping up the drafting of our beta tester application. We're running it by a few industry experts to ensure we can select the best possible applicants to not only provide us with fantastic content, but also to help us debug and prepare the F1 for mass production. We'll be selecting a limited number of beta testers from our backer pool, so expect a competitive application.
Now on to development updates!
Camera - We've been completing extensive testing with various camera modules. We'll be making a final decision on which sensor we'll be moving forward with by the end of October. Our primary criteria for this selection (without getting into the "nitty-gritty") will be great color rendering in underwater environments, low-light sensitivity, and wide field of view (for lens selection). Sample footage coming soon!
Buoy - A lot of effort has been put into development of our buoy after conversations with backers via our forum, and directly. We've decided to integrate a tether management system into the buoy, making it incredibly easy to not only deploy your F1, but also make it easy to pack all that tether. Many existing consumer underwater ROV companies seem to ignore tether management for some reason, or make you come up with your own solution. We want to provide a solution for every aspect of using your underwater drone, so you don't have to waste any time doing it yourself.
Here's a picture of an early stage buoy prototype that houses the drone's tether internally! The tether spools out automatically as you pilot your F1, so you don't need to have a second person spooling it out for you!
Here's a second buoy concept that features a removable external spool beneath the buoy to allow for a smaller physical footprint. We'll be doing head-to-head testing to see which is more effective for packing, piloting, and overall handling.
Tether - We've begun experimenting with an ultra-thin tether (3 mm in diameter) to enable easier management and minimization of the tether's associated drag effect! It also features a Kevlar reinforcing member to ensure - no matter how hard you tug on it - it won't break.
Drone Hull Design - Big update here! We've been working closely with Edgewater Development to simplify the F1's hull design. What we've come up with is a new design that would enable us to use a single mold for the shell, decreasing manufacturing costs while increasing robustness. We're bringing on a dedicated mold designer specifically for this on the 24th. Pictures of the updated design to come in the next update!
Internal Drone Hardware - We're currently proving out our updated internal hardware. Compared to our alpha prototypes, our betas will have enhanced processing power to better handle streaming HD video to your smart device, giving you a beautifully crisp image. We're also going through the sensor selection process (depth, heading, etc.), and interfacing them with our primary hardware.
Mobile Application - We've been making a lot of progress on our app. The primary points of focus have been handling the HD stream, and making sure latency is kept to an absolute minimum (our current approach introduces latency of approximately 185ms). We've also been working hard on integrating VR capabilities, and honing the user interface. This includes the integration of physical controllers to allow for an enhanced piloting experience! So far so good!
Aside from product development, we've had a few interesting conversations over the past week that we wanted to share with you:
We've begun working with faculty at Western Michigan University to explore the use of the F1 for truly unique uses cases, like photogrammetry (using cameras to produce 3D models of underwater structures). You can check out some of their work here: https://sketchfab.com/models/5534989c9f0b4d609413eef41723d2ff
We've also begun exploring the use of the F1 in educational programs with the director of the USS Silversides Museum in Muskegon, Michigan, who intends to use a "fleet" of F1's for a brand new ROV program they recently opened. Because the drone is easy to use, customizable, and affordable, it fits the bill perfectly for the program. You can check out their program here: https://silversidesmuseum.org.
USS Silversides Museum in Muskegon, Michigan.
If you want to learn more about using the Fathom One for an education program, feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
This is a section of our updates we want to introduce because, quite frankly, no development process is perfect. Sharing our struggles with you is an essential part of why we decided to use Kickstarter in the first place. Who knows, something that we don't know how to solve might be old hat for someone in our backer community. We also wanted to ensure the highest level of transparency; any Kickstarter project that says that everything is perfect all the time is a Kickstarter campaign we don't trust. So here goes:
The Problem - About two weeks ago we were having a tough time with resolving a "stuck frame" issue that was associated with our video streaming protocol. The stream was coming through nice and clear, but it had a habit of freezing up on us. Latency was also an issue - the stream itself was great, but had a latency of about 2 seconds. Clearly both these issues were unacceptable.
The Solution - Without going into too much detail (for the sake of keeping this update concise), we reworked our video streaming protocol, upgraded the drone's onboard processing power, and gave it another shot. Thankfully, this took care of the issue! We now have a nice clear stream without any annoying "stuck frames" or insane amounts of latency.
The Problem - Tether management. For our Kickstarter campaign, we just "lived with" not having a great solution for tether management (one of us would pilot the drone while the other spooled out tether). Another issue that we knew we needed to solve in a final product.
The Solution - Integrate a tether management system into the buoy! As you may have seen above, we're taking two approaches to solving the tether management issue: the first being housing the tether inside of the buoy. The second approach is housing the tether outside of the buoy on a small spool component below the electronics housing. Both present pros and cons, so we'll be doing some head-to-head testing in coming weeks to decide which is best!
That's it for obstacles in the first few weeks of working! Thankfully our team has been fantastic in tackling any issues that arise in a timely manner.
Phew! That was a lot to get out in one update! Needless to say, we've been getting a lot done, and it's only October! Also, if you haven't checked it out already, community members have been generating some awesome ideas on Fathom's forum. If you want to check them out or add your own, check out the forum here: http://fathomdrone.com/forum.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to shoot us a message!
John, Matt, and Danny