Drone company tests product in Alpena

News Photo by Jordan Spence Fathom Director of Customer Experience Chris Seto places the Fathom drone into the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary dive tank Friday. The company was in town to test the drone in the tank and Lake Huron.

ALPENA — Friday was one of the most productive field test days for Fathom Drones in a long time, as the company was in Alpena for testing.

Fathom co-founder John Boss made this observation as he and Director of Customer Experience Chris Seto tested their ROV product both in Lake Huron and in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Sanctuary Education and Outreach Coordinator Sarah Waters said sanctuary officials were excited to see it in action.

“The marine sanctuary has a great partnership with (Alpena Community College’s) marine tech program. So we’re always looking for opportunities to help provide experiences for ACC marine tech students that can help them with career pathways, or see different applications for ROVs. The Fathom Drone company is out of Grand Rapids,” Waters said.

Fathom officials were engineering students who graduated and formed a company to make this specific ROV product, she said.

Boss said co-founder Daniel Vessells thought of the concept while in college.

“He was at his college in northern Michigan and he thought ‘I can control an aerial drone with my smartphone but why can’t I do the same underwater,'” Boss said.

About eight months ago they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It was successful and they are now in the manufacturing phase.

Waters said there were a few reasons they came to Alpena to test the Fathom.

“The reason we went on the Lady Michigan, they were excited to test it out on Lake Huron on a shipwreck in particular,” Waters said. “They have high interest of taking some video footage of some shipwrecks of the marine sanctuary. We’re always eager to get video and they’ll be sharing that with us.”

The other test sites they’ve used for the drone were inland lakes. Waters said the clarity of Lake Huron and the dive tank made it easier to observe the movement and maneuverability of the drone.

The sanctuary also brought marine tech students to learn more about the Fathom.

“It’s an underwater ROV but it’s really they’re targeting more for recreational use. It’s a great opportunity for the students who have so far been learning about industrial applications, more heavy scientific applications,” Waters said. “This ROV is at a low price point, it’s accessible. Easy to get in and out of the water. It’s robust. You can plop it in and get it flying really fast and so it was an opportunity for them to see a different side of the industry.”

Boss said it’s made of polycarbon.

“If you have an iPhone or android phone you can download the app and connect to the network the drone creates and then you control the drone from the application,” Boss said.

He said people can design their own thrusters as well and more. They wanted the Fathom to be customizable and to use it to promote STEM education.

Seto said it was a great opportunity for them.

“It helps validate some things we value about the system. We have quick boot-up time. We can just plug this in, drop it in the water and it’s good to go. So that was cool to test in a real world environment. as well as maneuverability and locate objects. We were also able to get other people’s hands on it and test how quickly someone can pick this up,” he said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.