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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

 

 

 

CES Recap

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FullSizeRender

As you may have noticed from our social channels, Vantage had the opportunity to join TechCrunch at CES for its Hardware Battlefield competition. It was a busy week of introducing Snap to CES attendees, giving flight demos, preparing for our TechCrunch presentation and checking out other emerging technologies.

TechCrunch gifted us a booth space in Eureka Park — where hundreds of other startups were exhibiting— and gave us six minutes to present on the main stage with 14 other startups.

The judging panel included  Mark Fields, CEO of Ford; Helen Greiner, Founder/CEO of CyPhy Works; Matt Turck of First Mark Capital; and Susan Paley, Innovation Expert of General Motors and others. You can read TechCrunch’s write up, here. Or you can watch a brief demo of Tobin flying Snap, below:

**For the astute observer you might notice that the pods look slightly different and Snap’s design is now white. We will go into this design in a future blog post (and only this prototype is white, the real deal will not be)**

It was exciting to introduce Snap to a larger audience and get feedback from a panel of prominent industry experts. We enjoyed walking the show floor and checking out other emerging technologies like Nikon’s new, 360-degree camera and the machine that will allow you to create custom latte art — we’re a team of avid coffee drinkers.

But in looking at the competition within the drone market we’re more confident than ever. Snap brings a unique combination of portability, safety and ease-of-use, not to mention the 4K sensor and custom micro-gimbal, which will allow for exceptional footage. Snap is extremely well positioned within the market and we’re working tirelessly to bring the product to your doorsteps this spring. 

On that note, one of the most frequently-asked questions at CES was:

How do FAA regulations impact Snap?

According to the FAA, owners must register their Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) if it weighs more than .55lbs (250g).

Snap weighs 1.1lbs (500g), which means that if you pre-order or purchase Snap you must register with the FAA. 

To register, visit this website and create an account. Until January 20, 2016 the registration process is free. After that date the registration fee will be $5. We encourage all of those who have pre-ordered Snap to register now in order to avoid those costs.

As always, thank you for your support! We look forward to giving you more updates about Snap in the coming months.

— The Vantage Robotics Team

Year End Update

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Dear Vantage Community,

We wanted to share some important behind-the-scenes updates before capping off a great year. Since launching Snap in September, we have improved the product by leaps and bounds, and we are on track to deliver Snap in late Spring 2016. We have some challenges ahead, but couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the opportunities within our reach.

To start, we want to clarify one thing about Vantage Robotics and pre-orders. Every penny from every pre-order is held separately from our working capital. We are a privately funded company, not a crowd funded company. We will only invest your pre-order funds when we enter full production. We have not, and will not tap into those resources for payroll, engineering, prototyping, testing, marketing, or any other non-manufacturing expense.

Since launching, we have worked to refine the product so it has nearly its full range of capabilities. Through hundreds of hours of flight testing, we have identified  small reliability issues and are fixing them one by one to improve the robustness of the product. Lastly, with the transition to manufacturing coming soon, we have invested in reducing the part count, simplifying assemblies, and designing out challenging features, with the goal of reducing manufacturing risk.

We are also thrilled with the coverage Snap received upon launch from top-tier publications like Wired, Outside Magazine, TechCrunch, Fast Company, and The Verge.

With that said, let’s dive into some updates about Snap.

Testing

Moab Testing 2

We took Snap on the road for some testing days in Moab, Utah. The test unit helped confirm many of the design improvements we will outline below. Unfortunately, the test unit did not have the new 4K camera integrated, so the footage from Snap was not ready for sharing with our community.

Product

Our product development goals for the last three months have been (a) improving reliability and robustness, (b) adding the autonomous flight capabilities, (c) improving video quality, (d) designing and fabricating our custom 4k camera, (e) creating our smart battery electronics, and (f) incorporating all of these updates into a final industrial design. Our progress towards these goals is outlined below.

Improved Reliability and Robustness

We logged hundreds of flight hours over the last three months and discovered a few issues necessitating design changes. The top issues were robustness of the gimbal and the pods over time to cyclic loading and impact.

The-Snap-Flying-Camera-Gimbal-1024x683

 

Improved Gimbal Design

We have updated the gimbal design to fix issues with image quality, gimbal robustness, and fatigue life of the flex circuit connecting the camera to the processing electronics. The changes improve the robustness of the gimbal in crashes and the image quality due to the stiffer construction.

Updated Spoke Design

We love the original metal-spoke design, but we are considering a modification that utilizes carbon bottom spokes, which can absorb considerable impact energy by buckling on impact. Carbon also offers amazing stability, as it does not plastically deform like steel, so it will not stretch. We look forward to sharing this design solution in our next update.

Snap Gets Smart! Improved Autonomous Flight Capabilities

We’ve significantly added to and improved upon Snap’s autonomous flight capabilities in the last three months; Snap can now consistently perform two tracking modes and two pre-planned flight operations, in addition to a full range of manual flight capabilities. The two pre-planned operations include Out-and-Back and Orbit. The two tracking modes include Virtual Wire and Air Tripod.

In addition, we’ve also added the Smart Yaw control for keeping controls relative to the user, independent of yaw orientation (i.e. – you tilt the phone to the right and Snap always goes right, whether the camera is pointed towards you or away). We developed an in-flight mag-bias tracking algorithm to let Snap improve its orientation awareness quickly in flight.  We also added Auto Ground Avoidance, so Snap automatically stays one meter off the ground to avoid collisions.

Improving Video Quality

Getting top-quality video from a tiny quad is quite challenging (which is presumably one of the reasons why no one else has done it!). In addition to the previously mentioned mechanical gimbal improvements, we have also made a number of innovations on vibration isolation techniques, introduced a novel-canted propeller design for significantly tighter yaw control, integrated the gimbal gyro into the flight controller for improved yaw estimation and control, and improved the gimbal control software, which now hits +/- 0.025 degree angle tracking.

Custom 4K Camera Development

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The biggest improvement in video quality is yet to come. This month, we are finally integrating our 4k camera system into the quad design. We have been working on the 4k camera board sub-module, and while is has been a long road, it is finally ready for testing.

You can see one of the first 4k tuning images from flight ready boards below. We are quite pleased with the minimal distortion we have already achieved.

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We are currently integrating this camera into our new gimbal and frame and can’t wait to show you what it does in the air.

Smart Battery

Smart Battery_1_5

We have worked to create a smart battery PCB for doing state of charge estimation, cell balancing, charge level indication, battery circuit protection, and a capacitive touch sensor for improving the hand launch. The board firmware, schematics, and layout are all done.

Bringing It All Together – Snap DVU

SNAP exploded.312

The updated fuselage design shown above incorporates the final industrial design with necessary considerations for injection molding and assembly. With this new design we have made a number of significant improvements in both performance and manufacturability:

  • Customer removable and replaceable gimbal for repair or future upgrades.
  • Removable SD card located under the battery, as planned.
  • Cleaner battery connector design.
  • Lighter and tougher ultrasonically welded and bonded construction.
  • The entire assembly is now water resistant.

Summary

We hope you’re as excited as we are about our progress — your support has been crucial. The pre-order numbers are a true indication of the demand for a flying camera that is stunning, simple, smart, and safe. As we mentioned earlier, we believe we are right where we need to be to deliver Snap in late Spring 2016.

Please visit us at CES if you are attending. Though we don’t know our exact location now, we will be announcing it before the show.

Thank you again for your support,

Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics Team