Imagine if you could dive 100 feet into Lake Michigan all with the touch of your mobile device. At the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference, two recent Hope College graduates have made this experience a reality. Matt Gira and Danny Vessels are the co-founders of Fathom, an underwater drone aimed at bringing the diving experience to everyone. Underwater drones aren’t new, but the idea of making this technology accessible is. “One of the coolest things we are doing is integrating technology into everyday life. Enabling people to explore and leverage their creativity, and see what the world is all about underwater,” Danny Vessels explains. A native of Grand Rapids, Dan shared that the idea of Fathom came to him from listening to his grandfather’s stories of Michigan’s two-hundred-year-old logging industry. The idea of being able to explore lost artifacts like old, log-pulling horse-drawn carriages was intriguing. Matt Gira, Dan’s roommate, was also intrigued, and a sketch on an iPhone set the the two out on an entrepreneurial path that has lasted almost two years. Along with their engineer, John Boss, the team went through multiple rounds of product development. Matt reflected, “Balancing a startup and school could be overwhelming. Something wouldn’t work, or something would need to be re-designed. It was nerve wracking. Especially when you are a small team.” With degrees in chemistry, chemical engineering and biochemical engineering, the Fathom team demystifies the stereotype of their generation - millennials. Dan explains that entitlement was never a state of mind. “We had to put the blade to the grindstone. A lot of hours and long weeks were involved. You start off building for yourself, but end up building something that provides an experience for other people to enjoy.” Small enough to fit on an eight-by-eleven piece paper, the Fathom is joystick controlled by the pilot's mobile device. The wireless feed connects to a buoy which has a tether that allows the drone to dive to depths of 100 to 150 feet. The pilot can stand up to 100 feet away from the buoy, and still have full control. While submerged, the Fathom can take video or still photos. Pilots can even enhance video output by attaching a GoPro. Now in the thick of pitch contests, the Fathom team plans to participate in the conference’s Pitch Mackinac. They’ll be going up against other young entrepreneurs from across the state. In an effort to raise additional capital, a Kickstarter campaign will launch in July. The team will also travel to San Francisco to record whale migrations. This will be the first open water test for the Fathom. Looking five years from now Matt Gira reflects, “I’d like to build out Fathom and diversify its capabilities. Beyond providing all levels of recreational use, there are opportunities to help with environmental causes and nature preservation. Saving the whales kinda thing” Readers who want to keep up with the team’s development can sign up for their email newsletter at FathomDrone.com.
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