BY JEREMY GONSIOR
Everyone knows about the Fathom underwater drone project.
And yet they don’t.
You see when the team based in Grand Rapids, Mich. launched its first prototype in 2015 it made a splash – international news coverage from BBC, interest from its competitors, a growing social media following, and an impressive e-mail newsletter list.
But soon the team of four went underground, well, actually underwater for a few months.
No Web site updates.
No current photos.
Which, of course, led to speculation.
“Not too much is known about this company or the Fathom drone that they are developing,” laments an article about underwater drones on Nanalyze.
Four college students and a drone
Matt Gira, co-founder of Fathom, smiles when discussing the articles, clearly savoring the buzz about what the team may or may not be doing.
He’s a senior chemistry major at Hope College in Holland, Mich. Fresh out of class for the day, he’s relaxing in a hoodie at a coffee shop with a scenic view of campus. It’s crowded and as classmates walk by, he makes an occasional wave and head nod.
Gira acknowledges the dichotomy of his current lifestyle: he works hard at class all day and then transitions to budding high-tech entrepreneur at night, a high-tech entrepreneur who may change diving forever.
His fellow team members – Danny Vessells, John Boss, and Matt Webb – also balance both school and entrepreneurship each day.
How Fathom actually works
Back to the drone.
Fathom was conceived for people too scared to dive or who couldn’t afford the expensive diving equipment or for diving situations that are often too dangerous for people – shipwrecks. It’s small and portable and most importantly, easy to use. They approached Fathom from a business perspective, not an engineering one.
“It’s going to be more consumer friendly (than other underwater drones),” Gira said. “It’s intuitive. As long as you know how to work a smart phone you’ll be able to use it.”
Simply open the app in your phone and it will connect to a buoy within the drone. Then throw the drone in the water. The app interface features a two-joystick game controller console, which allows you to navigate the drone where you want.
“It’s really like a real-life video game,” Gira said.
Preparing for an official release
Since last fall Fathom has been testing the drone nonstop to keep the price affordable and decrease the size of the product. Gira said they’ve completed six or seven prototypes during that time.
“We’ve narrowed down the bells and whistles,” he said.
They tested the prototypes for weight distribution, balance in water, pressure – all in the Hope College pool.
But this week Gira said they expect to begin testing in local waterways, a huge step toward their goal of a consumer release in late summer.
Their secret weapon for so many prototypes? A 3D printer.
Any time they need a new prototype they design it and print it out, Gira said. Fathom used them so much they decided to invest in two 3D printers of their own.
Overall, Gira said the team is excited about Fathom’s future. They still have a lot to figure out – future office location, team, etc. – but have many advisers across West Michigan to help them.
They plan to release the underwater drone with the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign later in the year. That would provide enough startup money until they can begin selling the product. After that its possible they will seek more investors.
At the end of the day, Fathom is well-known and on the radar of many diving experts across the world. So the sky, or in this case, the sea is the limit.
“We’ve created our spot in the underwater drone space,” Gira said.