Making drones is really, really, hard. One would think we would have learned this rather thoroughly by now, but we continue to find new and unexpected challenges and marvel at the unexpected complexities. We’ve responded by throwing ourselves even harder back at the challenges and we continue to ship, make improvements, and give more than we’ve ever imagined possible to get Snap in your hands and make sure you will love it. We’ll share the latest with ongoing improvements, new challenges, shipping updates, Android, international shipments, that spare battery, and the case in this post.
Snap Keeps Getting Better
We continue to improve Snap. Most of our improvements have been in software, but we are also make some exciting hardware improvement as well. We think the shot at the top of this post nicely demonstrates the tracking improvements we’ve been making. This was shot using freeform tracking mode in high wind at 4k 30. We believe we are the only flying camera in the world capable of a shot of this speed, distance, and complexity with this level of quality. We will continue to invest in improving tracking shots to make sure Snap is the best drone in the world for capturing your adventures.
We continue to make improvements to the communication architecture and believe we are at state of the art for direct phone control. We recently set a new internal record of a 350 meter Out and Back flight while maintaining a video feed and telemetry for the entire distance. We have also made the necessary changes to our communication architecture to support our range extender, which will enable considerably improved range. We are innovating on milking the absolute most out of WiFi at every level and expect to have a steady stream of exciting news on improvements over the next few months.
We’ve been steadily improving Snap’s high wind performance. The shot below was done in 4k 30 mode with no post stabilization. You will notice a little bit of yaw wiggle, but otherwise, Snap had no problem in the 20 mph + winds at this kitesurfing destination.
Lastly, we have made some, gulp, hardware changes. We’ve had problems with the header than connects our GPS module to the circuit board breaking during “hard landings”, despite multiple reinforcement iterations. We’ve also seen that Snap did not always maintain a GPS fix when flying through forest or close to large buildings. This led us to test a newly available combined GPS/GLONASS module that is smaller, lighter, has a more robust method for attaching to the PCB, and claimed better location fix robustness. While we were skeptical, as we’ve seen mixed performance from combined modules in the past, we tested it thoroughly and found all of this to be true. Despite the large investment in our previous GPS module, we decided to make the switch so we could be confident that Snap is the best solution on the market. While we were redesigning the tail board for the new GPS module, we also improved the connection technique for the sonar module, which appeared to be vulnerable to the same type of crash damage as our original GPS module. The internal modular architecture of Snap has enabled us to make this changes as inline manufacturing improvements and just required swapping 2 of 13 circuit boards in Snap. We will continue to take advantage of this capability to upgrade Snap as other available hardware improves.
We are currently behind our shipping targets and have only shipped about 2% of total orders to date. This rate will accelerate considerably, but we will not be able to make up for time lost.
The biggest delay has been a Snap unexpectedly smoking during our manufacturing testing. This required us to stop our line until we figured out why, which took two weeks. We traced the issue to our PCBA manufacturer damaging a capacitor on our motherboard during the depanelization process (when a large sheet of boards gets broken up into individual boards). This capacitor connected battery voltage to ground, and the damage turned it into a resistor/heater, which anyone familiar with Ohm’s law, will know is bad. We have subsequently checked all other boards for damage, changed the depanelization process to prevent future damage, added an additional quality check to detect this damage, and added new battery software protection to detect this failure and shut down when it detects it.
We also had an issue with our image sensor PCB warping slightly during the manufacturing process, which lead to focus issues and low yield on our gimbal assembly. After several iterations on tooling to hold this part flat during the SMT process (when components get soldered onto the circuit board), we now have a solution that appears to be working consistently.
We recognize we haven’t been adequately accounting for unexpected delays like this in our estimates and while we are optimistic again that the hardest problems are behind us, it is clear we have mistakenly believed this too many times now and need to pad our estimates more for unexpected issues. Based on this, in addition to the specific delays above, our new expectation is that all pre-orders will be shipped by the end of September. If, we do not encounter any new meaty curve balls, then we expect to significantly beat this estimate.
Despite these challenges, we continue to ship units every day and we’ve been grateful for the positive feedback from customers so far. Many of you have asked about unboxing videos – you can see one from a customer below.
The MVP (minimum viable product) for our Android app is done. We will be doing final testing and debugging over the next 10 days and then begin shipping to our Android pre-order customers. The initial version will only include manual control mode and then we will successively add Air Tripod tracking, Freeform tracking, Out and Back, Orbit, and Virtual Wire tracking modes over the next month. (The vast majority of the effort goes into setting up the back end of the app, so while only 1/6th of the modes are done, about 95% of the app code is complete.) As there are a large number of different Android devices, it will take some additional time for us to ensure compatibility for all of our customer’s different devices. We will ship only after we have taken steps to ensure compatibility for your specific device, so we while we will prioritize shipments based on order date, customers with less common phones may have to wait a bit longer. If you are an Android customer and interested in being part of our beta program to help test compatibility for your device, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will begin international shipments starting next week. For our international customers the reason for delaying shipments internationally wasn’t because we love you any less, just that we wanted to have the most fluid possible communications with any initial customer issues and prefered to avoid adding language and timezone to any debugging challenges. For all of you outside the US, thank you for your patience on this.
We are not shipping batteries with initial orders, as we’re currently capacity constrained on battery pack production rates and don’t want to hold up getting full units to customers because of a battery shortage. We’re targeting beginning shipping spare batteries by mid-August. Sorry to limit you to 20 minutes per outing in the meantime! If you have a special adventure coming, please let us know and we’ll do our best to make exceptions on spare batteries where possible.
We are way behind on the case. We have put this project on hold until we are on top of all of the production challenges with Snap and will resume it as soon as we have the engineering capacity to do so. As of now, we expect to begin shipping the cases in September. In the meantime, we will be shipping everyone a fuselage “sock” to help protect the fuselage in your pack. We have been using this solution for about 1 year now, and frankly prefer it to the hard case, as it is lighter, faster to deploy, and a smaller total packed volume. Either way, our apologies for our delay on the hard case.
We’ll close with a recent video that one of our customers (and Beta tester) shared as a comment in a previous blog post. This video does not include any stabilization or color correction in his edit. We look forward to sharing more of your amazing work with Snap in posts to come.
Tobin, Joe, and the VR team