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Join Team Vantage

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Vantage has received many comments from community members addressing how we’ve been quiet lately. First of all, we apologize. Every day we make more progress in bringing Snap to your doorsteps, and lately we’ve been so busy that we haven’t devoted much time to share our progress.

Though we’re not going to address that now (updates are coming), we do have some exciting news: Vantage is hiring! We are looking to add three new team members: a head of manufacturing operations, a mechatronics engineer, and a lead mobile software engineer.  Lest you get concerned, we’ve had people in all of these roles in varying capacities for years, but we’re now growing the team after a new round of financing to further accelerate our progress.

A little bit about us: our experienced team of Stanford, IDEO, NASA, HP, Volkswagen, and DARPA Grand Challenge alums have founded a combined seven companies and have been granted over 50 patents. We’re also ardent kite surfers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, surfers, and hockey players. Our office is based in San Leandro, CA.

An ideal fit: First and foremost, we’re looking for highly capable team members who have a passion for photography, video, flight, and/or outdoor sports. We’re building the next generation of flying camera —the first of its kind to combine 4K video quality with market-leading safety features, lightweight portability and impressive flight performance— so if that doesn’t make you excited, Vantage isn’t the place for you. Ideal candidates will work collaboratively in a fast-paced work environment and juggle (many!) tasks at once; welcome to startup culture.

The details: 

Mechatronics Engineer… This top-notch engineer will assist in making Snap’s electronics innards and firmware work spectacularly well. This person should be capable of solving impossible problems twice as fast as their peers. Read more, here.

Head of Manufacturing Operations…. The operations head will help bring our flying camera, Snap, to market (the more experience in a similar role, the better) . You will be responsible for working with our contract manufacturer and engineering team to develop the company’s ability to manufacture Snap, work through teething pains, and scale production. Read more, here. 

Lead Mobile Software Engineer… Finally, we’re searching for a stellar iOS engineer to lead the development of the mobile phone-based controller for our flying camera. This will include writing code as well as managing and building our design and development team. The basic flight control software challenges have already been solved, so the development effort would primarily focus on spectacular interface implementation, low latency wi-fi link, extremely high reliability, and some interesting map graphics challenges. Read more, here.

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Mountain Biking at Dusk

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With summer in full swing, we’re excited to share a new 4K edit from Snap in its natural habitat: capturing stunning footage during all of life’s adventures!

We had the pleasure of working with professional mountain biker, Dustin Schaad, to shoot a dusky mountain bike ride outside of Auburn, CA, a couple of weeks ago. Check it out:



Schaad rides for Discrete Clothing, among others, and has ridden in notable competitions like the Red Bull Rampage; you can check out more of his biking here and here“The Auburn-area trails are some of the best, year-round mountain biking trails in all of Northern California,” says Schaad.  With over 200 miles of singletrack, you could spend a full year there and never ride the same loop twice.”

We’re pleased with how the image quality is improving, but also are still making tuning improvements to the lens, camera firmware, and flight control software. Astute observers may notice minor issues with sharpness, chromatic aberration, yaw movement, and lens distortion. We are working with the best image tuning firm in the world to continue to refine this so the image quality will be world class at launch.

We can’t wait to share more footage in the coming months! Leave any questions in the comments, and let us know where you’re excited to take Snap!

Until then-

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics team

Let’s Talk Autonomous Flight

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Now that we’ve given you a solid foundation (if you’ve been reading our blog, you’ve been educated on Snap’s design, power, gimbal, and control options) let’s talk about the fun stuff: the flight modes we’ve programmed into Snap to make it easy for you to capture amazing aerial footage.

We have two types of autonomous flight modes: tracking and pre-planned (canned) flight modes. Tracking modes keep you, or the subject of choice, in frame automatically and provide you with the tools to constrain Snap’s motion to a point, curve, or surface, so you can get the shot you want and keep Snap’s movements predictable. Pre-planned flights let you capture classic shots, like really big out-and-back shots and orbit shots, with the smoothest possible movement and just a tap or two on your phone.

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These autonomous flight options will allow you to capture footage hands free, with your phone in your pocket, backpack, fannypack…(you get the idea). Seems nifty, right? For the flyer it will be easy-to-use and intuitive, but incorporating all of that tracking tech into Snap was a bit more complicated — we’ll try and keep our explanation short.

Snap tracks you using both GPS (and your phone’s inertial sensors) and computer vision. Computer vision is most effective at close range and GPS tracking works best when Snap is farther away. We fuse both to get the best possible results, regardless of Snap’s distance.

With computer vision you draw a box around what you want to track in our app, and then machine learning and artificial intelligence helps Snap continually recognize that shape and track it. To get the best results from computer vision, there needs to be a large number of pixels available — this is why computer vision is best used for close-range tracking.

We utilize both your smartphone’s GPS transceiver and Snap’s own GPS transceiver to track you from farther away. When Snap is 100 meters away, GPS is able to estimate your position quite well, but if you were only four meters away, the camera can’t tell exactly where you are in the frame (that’s where computer vision comes in).

The GPS on most phones (like the iPhone) only updates once a second, which introduces some challenges for super smooth tracking. To compensate for this, we predictively model your location throughout that second using your velocity and heading at the last update. To further refine our estimate, we use the accelerometer on the phone for inertial updates so we can track direction changes during that second. Our CTO, Joe van Niekerk, designed the first 3D-motion tracker for action sports, so you can be confident that Snap’s tracking technologies will be cutting edge.

These different tracking technologies are used in concert in what we call “sensor fusion.” Each tracking method has its own strengths and weaknesses but when used together, they enable Snap to maintain the best tracking estimate possible.


Now for a closer look at Snap’s tracking modes. Note that all videos were shot at 720p.

Air Tripod

Snap hovers in place and yaws and pitches the camera in order to keep you in the frame. 

When to use:  This mode is useful when you know exactly where the action is going to happen, or when you fear Snap could hit an obstacle. Let’s say you’re cruising around a pump-track on your bike and you want to capture your ride. Air Tripod is your ideal mode because you know exactly where you want to film and you can set Snap to hover in place. As an added bonus, you can fly Snap in this mode and it automatically controls yaw and pitch of the camera to keep you in frame.

Virtual Wire

Snap follows you along a predefined path you set, providing you with the most artistic control over the shot, as well as a tool to make sure you steer clear of obstacles. You can choose to maintain a consistent distance or angle.  

When to use: You’re out for a solo mountain bike ride at dusk and you want to capture action from both sides of the trail. You define a virtual wire in 3D space, by simply pointing the camera on your phone, and then fly Snap to the desired starting point. This will lock in Snap’s orientation to you, so you can get the exact shot you want.

Free-Form Following

Snap moves relative to you, maintaining a consistent distance and angle. 

When to use: Snap’s Free-Form Following tracking mode is perfect when you have plenty of open space and don’t know exactly where you are going to go. Want to film your after-work soccer scrimmage? This is the tracking mode for you.


Snap is also equipped with several pre-planned flight modes. 

We determined the shots that people want to capture but are manually hard to fly, and we created pre-defined modes to make it easier. With a pre-planned flight mode, you are unrestricted by your smartphone range and are only restricted by battery time. We also wanted to make them easy to set up: using the app you can define the shot in seconds, with no prior training.

Out and Back

This mode allows you to take big, location-setting shots. Using your smartphone app you set your parameters and see a preview in 3D space. Out and Back allows you to go big, unrestricted by range. While flying you can dynamically control the speed, start and stop, and the yaw and pitch. 

When to use: Out and Back is a great option when you want a really big shot and you want to beautifully capture the context of your setting.

Orbit

Using Orbit, Snap smoothly circles around you. Similar to Out and Back, you use the app to view a preview in 3D space, and then while flying you can dynamically control the speed, start and stop, adjust your diameter, and control the yaw and pitch. 

When to use: You hiked up to one of your favorite vistas and you want Snap to fly smoothly around you — use orbit.

As a reminder, Snap is equipped with ground-facing sonar for ground avoidance and magnetic connectors so that it can safely break apart in the event that it does hit something. Full-blown obstacle avoidance is an accessory that will be available in the future.

These autonomous flight modes are intended to make the types of shots you want to capture really easy. That said, we’d love to hear from you if there’s another shot you think could be an ideal fit.  We’re confident that they will be some of your favorites and inspire you to try out something new. We can’t wait to see what you create!

Until then-

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics team

 

 

Delivery Update

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We are excited to share with you a long-awaited update on both manufacturing and delivery. You can read the detailed version below, but we’ll start by cutting to the chase on the delivery timing.

Though we’ve been working around the clock to try and begin shipping by the end of the spring, we are going to delay sending out the first shipments until the end of July. Our target is to ship all pre-orders by the end of September. The first 5% of pre-orders sent out in July will be part of our  “Voluntary Beta” program (which we explain in-full below).

We plan to ramp up delivery starting in August, with the goal of finishing all shipments by the end of September (for all pre-orders placed before today). As a rough approximation, we expect orders placed before Jan 1 to ship in August and those placed after Jan 1 to ship in September.

Snap continues to improve by leaps and bounds. We believe we have created the safest, most portable, and easiest-to-use 4K flying camera in the world, and we couldn’t be more excited to start shipping it to you and letting you experience it for yourselves.

We understand that many of you have been eagerly awaiting your delivery and we hate to make you wait any longer. As a thank you for your patience, we will be shipping all pre-order customers a spare battery, so you can make up for lost time flying as soon as you get your Snap.

Details follow explaining our reason for moving back delivery, the current status of manufacturing, and what the “Voluntary Beta” program entails.

Why are we delaying?

We know that at the end of day you want your flying camera. But we do want to make sure you know we’ve been going to extreme lengths to deliver and are not taking this delay lightly. A few reasons are detailed below:

  • Performance improvements: We opted for a few improvements in battery technology and motors in order to improve our flight time and peak thrust for higher top speed and improved wind performance. We made these changes to both make sure we exceed our 20-minute flight time promise, and in response to requests from customers who wanted to use Snap in the widest possible range of conditions. We knew these changes would take time and vowed to work a bit harder to make up for it, but underestimated the full scope of re-optimizing the system around these changes.
  • Consistent video quality: Holding a 4K video camera to 0.01 degrees with a micro-gimbal is really hard (so hard that we’re the first in the world to accomplish it). We knew this when we launched and had already spent more than two years engineering it. It turned out that making it work consistently, in a variable range of conditions, with our custom 4K camera was significantly harder and required some redesign on vibration isolation, gimbal control techniques, and really, really good yaw control techniques. This took time and introduced delays in kicking off tooling and consumed the extra time we had built into the schedule.
  • Tooling design time: We have made many injection molded parts previously and are very familiar with this challenge. We expected that making parts which are pushing the lower limits on weights while maintaining high durability would be harder, but didn’t fully appreciate the necessary time to get this right. This introduced a few weeks of additional delays as we went back and forth with our injection molding toolers to convince them to pull off the impossible.Molding
  • Vendor component delays: We pushed the limit with technology on Snap and as a result have been beholden to some sole-source suppliers who offer the best components in the world. One was late in completing their product and delivering sample units, which has delayed our testing.  Additionally, the factory making our image sensor was shuttered by the earthquake in Japan in April. We have resolved both issues, but not without burning many more cycles than we would have liked.

We hate making excuses, but as our first supporters, you deserve to know all of the details. We will keep you up to date as we move through the final stages of getting Snap into your hands.

Current Delivery Status

Here is exactly where we stand. This is what’s done:

  • We have completed the design. This was the hardest part, but we finished it many months ago.
  • We have completed performance and field testing on our engineering prototypes to validate that the design will work as intended, and we also updated the design to fix all of the issues we found.
  • We have signed on all of our manufacturing partners for supplying components, creating tooling, and doing the final assembly and testing.
  • We have finalized the interface design (which we will be sharing soon!) and backend of our flight control app and are currently working to merge the two.
  • We have cut tooling (see pics below) for our most challenging parts and expect to have the remaining tooling complete in a few weeks.

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What still needs to be done:

  • Assemble units based on the final tooling: We have already done this based on CNC’d parts, so we don’t expect many surprises here, but the devil is always in the details, and there are a lot of details.
  • More testing: To date, we have been limited in the number of units we could test, due to the high cost of prototypes and shortages of key components. We plan to do a hell of a lot of flying over the next two months with tooled parts in order to uncover as many corner-case issues as we possibly can.
  • Fix bugs: We expect to have some small modifications to software, minor changes to the electronics if needed, and a few tooling modifications based on the results of our testing.
  • Camera tuning: Our video quality is quite good, but we need to do the additional work to make it spectacular. We partnered with the best camera tuning shop in the world to get rid of the last bits of fringing, chromatic aberration, imperfect focus, and an occasional gimbal jitter.
  • Beta testing: Work with our Beta testers to uncover those really tricky issues that we might never uncover ourselves. Do our adhesives have a weakness for hamster pee? That sort of thing.
  • Build more units and get them to you.

The biggest risk in this program will be the time required to fix bugs discovered during Beta testing. Based on the work we’ve done to date, we have good reason to be optimistic. However, given that the purpose of these stages is to discover what we don’t know, it is hard to say with certainty how long it will take to fix yet-to-be-discovered challenges. We will make sure to keep you abreast of any serious issues that arise during this period that could impact delivery timing.

So what does “Voluntary Beta” mean, you ask?

If you were one of the first people to order Snap, we will be reaching out to see if you would like to participate in the Voluntary Beta program. You will need to meet a few criteria:

  • You must be among the first 5% of pre-order customers.
  • You must reside in the United States.
  • You must be an iPhone / iOS owner and user.

We will not be able to ship to Android customers or international customers in the first beta shipment in July. We are sorry for that delay.

As a Voluntary Beta tester, you will be one of the very first to receive Snap. We will do everything we can to make sure the product is ready, but you should expect that Snap will not be perfect. However, you will have a direct line of contact with the Vantage Robotics engineering team and we’ll want to hear about every last detail of your experience and how we can make it more awesome.

Your complete satisfaction will be guaranteed. You will be able to return Snap for a complete refund if you are not satisfied. If anything requiring a hardware change is found during the Voluntary Beta test period, we will replace your hardware at our expense. Firmware and app updates are almost certain, so your patience during this period will be required.

And we’ll give you a Vantage Robotics Beta Program hat so you can let everyone know you were one of the first!

*******

Once again, we know you’ve had a long wait to get your hands on Snap, and we hate to make you wait longer. Thank you for your patience as we work through getting these last details right. We have a lot to accomplish, but both our manufacturing partners and the internal team have committed to the challenge. We are working full bore to make it happen.

As always, we couldn’t be more grateful for your ongoing support to help bring Snap to market. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments or concerns. We will also be releasing some exciting new footage from Snap early next week, so be on the lookout!

Our best,

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics Team

Choose How You Fly

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While designing Snap, we recognized that many flyers have strong personal preferences, and we wanted to create an experience that could delight both the beginner looking for ease of use and the experienced user looking for high performance.  Our solution to this challenge is controller flexibility, which lets you fly how you want. You have three different control options with Snap:

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Before creating Snap, the Vantage team used to fly drones with standard two-stick controllers, which allow for the most tactile response. But we were disappointed by their bulky nature, how geeky they made us look, the lack of intuitive controls, and the challenge of extending their capabilities to more capable flight modes. So, we set out to make something better using a controller that everyone already has in their pocket.

Smartphone Controller
For beginners, this is the option that will be easiest to use; it is also the cheapest, lightest, and smallest. Over months of testing, this is the option that the Vantage team has come to prefer. Here’s why:

We’re using a proprietary technology called SmartTilt that allows you to intuitively tilt your phone while Snap responsively mirrors your motion. No matter the direction Snap is pointed, it always moves in the direction you tilt your phone, based on an automatic yaw transform. Other products with similar features require a GPS fix for this, but it works both indoors and out with Snap.

For instance, if Snap is pointing at you and you tilt your smartphone to the right, Snap will fly to your right (its left). If you tilt away from you, Snap will fly away from you (flying in reverse). You no longer need to make the mental adjustment, because we’ve done it for you. It’s an aspect of the controller technology that we spent ample time refining and re-engineering until we truly got it right.

Using a smartphone has come to feel like the most natural flying option for Snap—and it also lets you fly one-handed, which is, well, handy.

But, regardless of which controller option you use, your smartphone is needed if you want to stream 720p footage from Snap, and view it in real time. In an upcoming blog post we’re going to do a deeper dive into our custom-designed app, which will be available on iOS and Android, with tablet capability being added in the near future. Here are some sneak-peeks of the app:

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We’ve invested in an extremely high performance Wi-Fi module that will enable a very robust link between your smartphone and Snap. We find the 150-meter range is more than sufficient for tight, action shots that can zoom out to location-setting shots. And for those really big, butterfly-inducing zoom outs, we prefer using pre-planned flight modes, which let Snap fly out over a kilometer without depending on the Wi-Fi link. If you really wanted to manually control Snap for super big shots, we’re developing a range extender that will let you extend that range to 1500 meters.

As you can see below, if Snap loses its connection it will hover in place until the signal is regained, or fly back to you if it isn’t.

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We’re confident that you can get the shot you want with our smartphone controller. But we also recognize that the controller is sort of like a paintbrush for a painter, and we didn’t want to limit your artistic freedom based on our perspective. So we’ve invested in making Snap the most flexible flying camera out there, enabling you to fly according to personal preferences.

DSM Two-Stick Controller [UPDATE 11/3/16— you must use DSM accessory module to connect with DSM] We made sure that those who fly with two-stick controllers could still use what they prefer. You can opt for Snap’s DSM accessory module (free for customers who pre-order Snap before 11/10/16) which will allow you to link to a DSM controller. The DSM link will allow for extended range up to 1500 meters. Two-stick controllers have the best tactile feedback and offer the most accurate control.

Because the smartphone range only extends to 150 meters, we recommend using the DSM controller with the smartphone range extender: this will allow you to utilize the full range from the DSM and still maintain the live video feed.

Game Controller
Though this may not be the controller option that first comes to mind, for dedicated gamers it will be a familiar tool and give you the bonus of being able to fly something real, outside of the virtual world!  From a portability standpoint, the game controller is less cumbersome than the DSM controller, but just slightly larger than a smartphone, making it an ideal middle size.

You use the game controller in combination with your smartphone so you can see the live stream and get the rich feedback from the smartphone.

Autonomous

You can also fly Snap hands free using one of our autonomous flight modes. We have a lot to say about this aspect of Snap, so stay tuned for an upcoming blog post.


We’ve designed Snap to enable flyers of every level to have ultimate flexibility and get that perfect shot.  We can’t wait to see what you create!

Thanks for reading, and we look forward to your questions in the comments. Let us know how you want to fly and we’ll do what we can to get you there.

Until soon,

Tobin, Joe, and the Vantage Robotics Team

4K Footage is Here!

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We’ve been promising it for weeks, but we’re finally ready to share some of the first 4K footage with our community. Check it out:

The Vantage team took these shots in the San Francisco area during the past couple weeks. These clips highlight the rock-solid stability provided by Snap’s gimbal. The footage has not been corrected or stabilized in any way. It was pulled straight from Snap and into iMovie at 4K, and then exported back out in 4K.

We look forward to adventuring with Snap in the coming months and sharing even more great footage, highlighting Snap’s wind stability, tracking modes and spectacular 4K-video quality. And, because Snap is so portable, you can look forward to shots from all different types of locations.

We are still tuning the 4K camera for chromatic aberration, white balance, exposure and some other settings, so it’s a few steps away from the final quality.

But stay tuned for more clips and leave your questions in the comments!

Best,

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics team

Tech Talk: Snap’s Micro Gimbal

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When we decided to build Snap three years ago, our goal was to create a flying camera that wouldn’t just be lightweight and easy-to-use, but it would also capture professional-quality footage rivaling professional set ups. To accomplish this, we knew Snap would need gimbal stabilization.

A  gimbal-stabilized camera is mounted on actuators that move to keep the camera at a consistent orientation relative to the ground. Since Snap (and all other quadrotors) need to tilt quickly in order to move and maintain position, this stabilization of the camera is crucial for achieving smooth video.

The Problem: While gimbal stabilization is the standard for professional aerial video, most gimbals on the market weigh in at a 100 grams or more. Bigger gimbals are easier to hold steady—think about how it’s easier to balance a yardstick on your finger than a pencil. We needed one that was substantially lighter and smaller to comply with the lightweight and packable design we had imagined for Snap.

The Solution: After three years of intense R&D with a highly-talented team, our fair share of trial and error, and excessive amounts of coffee, we managed to engineer this impossible gimbal.  Check out the clip below—and keep your eye on the camera— to see Snap’s gimbal in action.

Even though this video was shot with one of Snap’s early prototypes, you can still get a sense for how the system works. Snap’s gimbal stabilization will also ensure that the vibrations from the propellers don’t distort the video, giving it that “jell-o” effect.

How’d we do it? Without giving away too much, here are some of our design secrets:

  • We integrated all of the gimbal components into the fewest possible parts. This enables us to create the stiffest possible assembly with minimal weight.
  • We designed our gimbal with materials and shapes that optimize strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios. Strong and stiff equals precise, high-quality video.
  • We rotate the camera using custom-integrated low cogging torque motors to enable consistent, buttery-smooth rotation. The roll-stage motor is integrated into a one-piece cnc’d 6061 T6 aluminum yoke and holds the camera from both sides, making it both extremely stiff (remember, stiff = high video quality) and light, as well as extremely hard to break.
  • In the event that you do manage to destroy the gimbal, the entire assembly can be removed for repair by taking out two 2-mm allen-head screws.
  • In order to further reduce weight, we designed out the yaw axis on our gimbal. We did this by modifying the orientation of the blades on Snap to radically improve our level of yaw control and then adding custom Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) to remove the sub-1 degree yaw movements to maintain pixel perfection.

As the gimbal gets smaller and lighter, little things like bearing drag and wire stiffness start to become big issues. Here’s how we tackled those:

  • We fabricated all the parts to absurdly high CNC machined tolerances, used the best quality bearings, created custom, ultra-flexible flex circuits, and used precise miniature hollow shafts for torque-free micro wire routing. In short, these additions will keep everything perfectly smooth in this new micro size.
  • To deal with isolating the propeller vibration from the gimbal, we coupled the mass of the gimbal with the fuselage and battery and then vibrationally isolated this assembly from the propellers, using custom-tuned isolators. Since the whole system is substantially lighter, we need smaller, less powerful propellers, which produce less vibration, giving us a leg-up on heavier systems.

Just getting the mechanicals right still isn’t enough, most of the essential innovation is in the control electronics and software:

  • Our proprietary control software makes over 1000 adjustments per second to the gimbal’s angle (nearly 10 times for each rotation of the 7000 rpm propellers!) and can maintain less than 0.05 degrees of pointing accuracy.
  • In order to maintain the fastest possible response, our gimbal’s control software actually anticipates Snap’s movement through integration with the flight controller, so the gimbal can respond in perfect synchronicity with Snap’s movements (this is called “feed-forward,” in control-theory speak).

All of these design and engineering changes translate to a gimbal that can hold its own against the big boys. We can’t wait for you to try it out.

Leave your questions in the comments.

Best,

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics team

Tech Talk: Snap’s Smart Battery

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Here’s what shouldn’t happen: You’re determined to capture a shot of your buddy’s rock jump into the lake, but your flying camera nears the ominous dead-battery zone. You scramble to ensure a safe return, hug your expensive tech and cry, and the whole experience leaves you on edge about ever flying it again.

Fortunately, we engineered Snap to worry about those little details so you don’t have to. Focus on getting that perfect shot and we’ll take care of the rest. Meet our smart battery:

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Our battery keeps track of exactly how much capacity is left and fuses that information with GPS data to create what we call a “dynamic geofence,” a kind of safety net to make sure your Snap can always make it back home.

We’re using a new kind of battery cell that not only allows for long flight time, but extremely high power and rapid acceleration. With its high discharge rate, our battery allows energy-to-weight and power-to-weight ratios that have been previously unattainable (the fine print: 4 cell/14.8 v LiIon battery with 3000 mAh capacity, and 30 amp continuous discharge ability). One battery charge will last just over 20 minutes, with a top speed of 33 mph and faster acceleration than a Ferrari. You could say that we put you in the driver’s seat.

The battery’s fuel-gauge system shows the remaining charge on an illuminated LED strip, which allows you to assess remaining power at a glance. Sensors detect when the battery is in your hand, signaling the strip to light up without fumbling for a button to press.

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When it’s time for a new battery, swapping is simple with our magnetic connection system. Unlike competitors with integrated batteries, Snap lets you easily swap out the battery and get back in the air. Snap’s primary components (fuselage, rotor set and battery) have magnetic connections, so they easily assemble and—just as important—safely break apart in the event of a crash, sort of like an F1 race car. Our charging accessories will also feature this same magnetic connection system, so you can connect the battery to the charger with your eyes closed and in no time at all.

Designing an electrical connection system that could break away at any angle was a serious challenge. In order to not cause damage to the connectors on break away, we took inspiration from ejector seats on airplanes and created a design that springs the connection away to avoid putting undesirable stresses on the connectors. We then brutally tested this, found flaws, refined, tested again, and repeated for longer than any sane person would consider. The result is a rock-solid connector that requires zero thought and maximal robustness.

Our smart battery is designed to get you in the air as quickly as possible. Fumbling with on-off switches only slows you down, so Snap doesn’t have one. Connecting the battery triggers an electronic handoff that automatically enables it to provide power to Snap. And if you want to leave the battery connected, it has a standby mode that lets you leave the app connected, but consumes minimal power until you are ready for take off. All of this aids in the fact that you can take Snap out of your backpack, assemble it, and get flying in a super short amount of time.

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A battery with over a 30 Watt hours of energy needs to be treated with care. In addition to mechanically recessed pins, Snap’s electronic handshake with the battery before providing power means it is impossible to short. If you happen to carry around the battery in a pocket full of paper clips and loose change, we’ve got you covered!

In the coming months we will be revamping the website, where you’ll be able to purchase additional battery packs; these will retail for $100.

As always, please leave questions in the comments section and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Stay tuned for more blog posts and 4k footage in the coming weeks, too.

— Tobin, Joe, and the Vantage Robotics team

Rotor Set Design Update

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After debuting Snap back in September, our engineering team has been in full force testing the product and ironing out the design details. We’re determined to make Snap the most advanced flying camera possible, and that means improving and upgrading certain design aspects right up until it goes into final production.

On that note, today we announce a new rotor set design (the rotor set is the folding assembly that has the four propellers, motors, and guards which attach to the body). As much as we loved the original metal-spoked design, we decided to consider an alternative prior to locking in on the final production design. After countless hours of testing, and greatly improved performance, we are pleased with the new design. Here it is:

This new design replaces the original tensegrity structure created by the steel spokes and replaces them with unidirectional pultruded carbon spokes on the bottom. These new spokes offer a number of advantages which will ultimately improve the following:

  • Overall Weight
  • Wind Performance
  • Thrust Efficiency
  • Durability

Because carbon fiber has about 1/7th the density of steel, we can make the spokes larger without increasing the weight (actually, this new design shaves off 15 grams). The larger spokes themselves also offer a few advantages:

First of all, the deeper cross section (3.9 mm instead of 0.3 mm) increases the Reynolds Number of the flow over the spokes, which reduces the energy lost in the turbulent wake behind the spoke. This change translates to longer flight time and improved stability in the wind. We can also get away with using fewer overall spokes, which further improves wind performance and efficiency.

Additionally, the stouter structure of the carbon spokes can bend (like a bow) on impact with the ground, which allows the form to absorb greater amounts of energy. Snap can now hit the ground harder without breaking (we tested this by adding weights to the rotor sets and dropping it from a 15-foot deck onto the concrete below).

One of the biggest challenges with this design was understanding how to effectively secure the ends of the spokes so that they could bend smoothly without breaking. After several months of careful material selection, finite element analysis, drop tests and revisions, we found a combination of soft and flexible materials in the hub, and stiffer materials in the rim, which have withstood even the hardest of our drop tests.

 

With this final design change complete, we are now preparing for the tooling release on March 1 and will begin the assembly and test of final units in late April. The new design also offers a host of manufacturing benefits –  massively reducing the number of unique parts – which will help get Snap to your doorstep faster! This leaves us on track to begin deliveries at the end of spring, in early June.

We have a number of other exciting updates coming soon, including a flight time announcement, a new office space and sharing flight video from our 4k camera, so stay tuned!

As always, thank you for your support.

— Tobin and the Vantage Robotics team