While most drone companies look to the skies for success, a Michigan-based firm believes the future lies underwater.
Fathom, a Grand Rapids start-up, is developing an aquatic, football-shaped drone for release this summer. The brain-child of a trio of graduates from Hope College, Fathom hopes to crack the underwater robotics market with a model that connects with a smart device to gather video or images underwater.
“You no longer need an intensive technical background or thousands of dollars to explore the world,” said partner Danny Vessells in a company statement. “As long as an individual knows how to work a smartphone, they can dive without actually leaving dry land.”
Vessells expects the Fathom, a tethered/buoy model, to retail around $600 and the company’s target market are consumers, budget-conscious safety agencies and industrial clients – anglers, oil pipeline owners and police.
The company also hopes researchers will explore ecological issues beneath the sea with the drone. “Fathom can inspire others to take action to protect our dying coral reefs, and help protect global water quality,” Vessells added.
So far, potential customers include an arctic explorer searching for sunken Viking ships, a documentary filmmaker in the Bahamas, and the Aquarium of the Pacific, Vessells said.
The Fathom concept emerged as a result of Vessells’ curiosity while a student at Hope College. As an engineering student, he often wondered what might lie beneath the surface of Thumb Lake near his cottage.
“He realized that he couldn’t see under the water,” partner Matthew Gira told the Detroit Free-Press. “There are all these myths and legends about what’s actually down in the lake but no one actually knows. And it’s a really deep lake. You can’t just go down there and swim and see.”
As far as venture capital goes, the company has humble beginnings, recently winning $5,000 from the 5X5, a West Michigan startup contest. Fathom used the money to buy a 3D printer to create drone prototypes. However, Fathom has raised $28,000 overall in several startup competitions.
Aquatic drones have proven to be a seaworthy concept across the UAV industry. Last year, British firm Search Systems Ltd., developed a UAV-ROV crossover. The Mariner 600 is an unmanned multicopter with aquatic landing capability with interchangeable aerial and marine camera views.
A San Diego-based company has hooked into a drone-driven revenue stream with the release of a 3-D printed UAV designed to fly over water. The aptly named AguaDrone can hover over water carrying one of three available telemetry pods that locate and help capture fish.