Hey Fathom community! It's been a whirlwind of a November so far, and we have a lot to share; a lot of our work has been put into taking backer feedback and pumping it directly into the F1's design. That's why we love this community - you've already begun shaping what our flagship product is going to be. First things first, let's talk about some important drone development updates!
Drone Hull Updates - As we mentioned our last update, we're constantly iterating the drone's hull design to make it even easier to assemble, as well as making it more robust. One of the primary ways we're doing this is through a new hull design in which the drone's hull is now comprised of one primary plastic part, which will not only make it much easier to manufacture, but also increases robustness. Check out some pictures of the new and improved Fathom One!
Swept lines and a more hydrodynamic hull help to increase efficiency, and we've been experimenting with optional tail stabilizers for added control.
Updated window design. Continual iteration will take place to hone the drone's aesthetic appeal.
More aesthetic updates will come in following weeks!
The Raspberry Pi and Pi Camera - This is huge. After countless conversations with backers, as well as hours and hours put into making this drone more accessible than ever, we've officially decided to integrate the open-source Raspberry Pi 3 computer as the brains of the F1, as well as a Raspberry Pi Camera V2 Module as the primary embedded camera. This is a fully capable, 8 megapixel, 1080p, 30 fps module that can deliver some pretty impressive results at its price point. If you want more information on the module's sensor, feel free to check out the specs here.
By implementing the open source Raspberry Pi CPU, now the drone's software is - in a sense - modular, just like the drone itself!
There are a few reasons this is really exciting for our community: The first being, you now have full control to modify your F1's embedded software, however you see fit. This means (if you have the technical know-how) you can implement a bunch of awesome software upgrades! Also, it allows us to easily release updates to improve your drone as we develop new and improved software-based features. Another great thing about combining the power of the Pi Camera with the Raspberry Pi CPU, is now you have full control over camera settings (white balance, saturation, contrast, brightness, etc.) to capture the perfect shot, no matter the situation.
Speaking of capturing the perfect shot, this new hardware implementation will also allow you to save video directly on the drone. You'll no longer have to worry about any signal interruptions ruining your video, or depending solely on your smart device's memory to capture your entire dive. Here's some sample video from the drone's onboard camera at stock settings. Please forgive the bumpy ride, but enjoy the quick tour of our building! Be sure to select the HD setting in the bottom right!
The last thing that's important to note about this setup is that we'll likely be customizing the camera module to increase your field of view, allowing for a more immersive piloting experience.
Pilot and Observer Video Streams - A huge focus for the past two weeks has been nailing down our networking protocols for implementing both "pilot" and "observer" video stream options. We finally nailed it down and developed a system that allows the pilot to have a smooth, minimal latency stream while observers can tune in (if they have your buoy password) and see what the pilot is seeing in real-time. Here's a brief test of both a pilot and observer watching the same drone feed (device on the left is an Android smartphone, while the device on the right is an iPhone):
UI Development - We've made a ton of progress on our user interface. We've implemented on-screen joystick control, full instrumentation readouts, as well as the aforementioned pilot and observer video streams. Logging into your drone is incredibly simple. Just select the buoy's WiFi signal from your settings, enter the buoy's password, and launch the Fathom app. Fathom there, you can choose to be a pilot (there can only be one per drone) or an observer that tags along for the dive. We're also working on a "dive log" feature, in which you can save information from your dives to share with the rest of the Fathom community. Here's what to expect from the user interface (aesthetic updates coming soon):
When you open the Fathom app, it'll notify you if you haven't connected to your buoy. Once you have, you can choose to be either a pilot or observer. You can also access your dive log to review and share your expeditions!
If you choose to be a pilot, you'll enter into your cockpit. From here you have full control over your F1. If you're an observer, you'll have access to the F1 video stream.
Here's a look into the drone's brain as you use the on-screen joysticks:
Drone Thrust Module Updates - A primary focus since the beginning of the F1 project has been its modular thruster attachment system that allows you to customize, upgrade, or repair your drone's thrusters with unparalleled ease. We're excited to announce that we've revamped each thrust module design so it's easier than ever customize your drone to your liking.
There are a few things to notice about this new design: First and foremost, each thrust module is only two pieces - the motor housing and prop. Minimal hardware is needed for installing each motor, and the physical footprint of each thruster has been decreased. Another major change in the design of these modules is the way they interface with the hull of the drone. Instead of plugging into the hull, now they screw into it. This allows us to use thruster mounting screws as both a mechanical fastener and electrical contact. This also means they don't have to be sealed, which greatly decreases costs. Check it out:
Battery Capacitance - Backers have spoken, and we've responded! Many of you wanted increased dive times out of the box, so we've doubled the battery capacitance of the Fathom One. This is a result of the new hull design that allows us to pack in another 2200 mAh lithium polymer battery. Through the various design updates that decrease assembly and part costs, we can afford this without adjusting the price of the unit.
Tether - We thought you may want to see just how thin our new tether is! Check out the comparison between the new and old tether:
New (grey) versus old tether (blue). This new tether has enhanced flexibility with minimal memory to optimize drone performance and increase ease of tether management.
As always, there's a ton going on outside of just product development. Most notably, we opened a survey in early November to begin collecting beta user applications thinking we'd only receive around twenty of them. By the time we closed the application, we ended up with close to eighty applications. This was incredibly exciting for us to see such a high number of awesome applications. We've had to complete the incredibly difficult job of narrowing it down to our top applications, and have already begun phone interviews to further vet our applicants. Again, another reason we're so thankful for our Fathom/Kickstarter community.
T-shirts are shipping, so get excited to represent your favorite underwater drone company! We've finally gotten our t-shirts back from the printer, and are shipping them out to you! We're really happy with how they've turned out, and we think you will be too.
Behold - Fathom's low-volume fulfillment services (i.e. the team taking a break from development to pack everyone's shirts)
Most of you should have received tracking numbers for your shirts by now. We did start with domestic shipments, so if you are an international backer, don't worry, your tracking number will come soon.
As a side note, if you have not filled out a survey yet on Backerkit, we have no way of knowing your address, and we can't ship a shirt without an address! You should be able to log in to complete the survey here.
Developing a consumer hardware product is hard. There's no getting around it. That's why we introduced the "Biggest Challenges" section of our updates, to give you an inside look at the struggles we encounter, and how we overcome them to get one step closer to making the Fathom One a reality.
The Problem - It was a challenge to decide how we should go about achieving multiple video streams, to multiple devices, at varying resolutions and frame rates simultaneously while giving the pilot the option to record video to the drone's onboard memory. Heck, just saying it makes us feel dizzy. We tried various approaches, all with sub-par results that we weren't happy with.
The Solution - After countless tests and failures, we finally broke through to a solution we really liked! Without going into too much technical jargon, we designed one streaming protocol that's been optimized for low-latency, smooth video streaming to the pilot with data feedback, while implementing another for "observers" that simply allows interested individuals to tune into the drone's video feed if they have your buoy's WiFi password. What this means is that the Fathom experience can be totally communal - just because you may have purchased one drone, doesn't mean more than one person can't enjoy it!
The Problem - We had to come up with a better solution for attaching the drone's thrust modules while minimizing connectivity issues. Something we found was that many plugs we experimented with had some sort of spring mechanism that would wear out after extensive use, and we still had to use a separate mechanism (clips, screws, etc) to hold the thrusters in place.
The Solution - Make the mechanical connection points dual purpose! By redesigning the thrust modules so that their mechanical connection to the drone is also their electrical interface, we solved the issues we were experiencing. This means each thruster will be mounted securely while ensuring depth and water salinity don't affect thruster connectivity. Thruster security + reliability = one happy Fathom team.
That's it for now! But as always, feel free to comment, shoot us as email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post to our forum!
We can't say it enough - having all of you behind us in this venture has made all the difference. As our business partners and community members, you motivate and push us to make the Fathom One the best it can be. There's a lot happening in coming weeks, so be sure to stay tuned.
Let's get out there and explore.
John, Matt, Danny, and Chris