If you want to meet the future of manufacturing in West Michigan, just shake hands with 22-year-old John Boss, who intends to strike it rich with an underwater drone called Fathom One.

Boss and partners Matthew Gira and Daniel Vessells are using all of today’s digital tools to launch “the world's first easy-to-use, truly affordable underwater drone” as a business -- design software, 3-D printing, website design, digital press kit, Kickstarter, video. What started as a capstone engineering project at Hope College may end up being a lucrative consumer products company for the trio.

And if you have the impression that they are science/engineering nerds who are more comfortable behind a computer screen than making a sales pitch, banish the thought. These guys are savvy marketers who are as skilled in the fundamentals of personal sales, marketing, branding, public relations and capital acquisition as they are with test tubes and machine tools.

Boss and Vessells wore matching tee shirts with a cleverly designed logo of Fathom during their presentations at the Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire last Sunday at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. They are raising capital through a Kickstarter campaign with a launch party at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at the museum, along with offering a free Fathom to the person who signs up the most friends on the Fathom website. The website offers a digital press kit loaded with photos and a well written news release, as well as catchy video that shows the invention gliding underwater like a little white manta ray.

Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. They’ve snagged $20,000 in funds and services from the Emerge Xcelerate program from Start Garden, gotten coverage on the invention in the Detroit Free Press, BBC News, Hackaday.com, and SlashGear.com, and won several entrepreneurial awards.

Vessells hatched the idea for Fathom after hearing his grandfather tell a story about how horse-drawn wagons for pulling logs had cracked through the ice of a nearby lake and were probably still resting at the bottom. Vessells wondered if an affordable device could be made for underwater exploration that didn’t cost as much as commercial underwater drone systems. After two years and several iterations of the invention, the Fathom team feels it is now ready for Kickstarter.

Fathom has a price point of $600 for the drone that uses tether to transmit video or still photos taken with its HD camera and high intensity LED lights, directed through the tether with either a physical controller or the Fathom App that connects to a wireless buoy. It can operate for 45 minutes or more on its battery, and it can dive to a depth of 150 feet.

Time will tell if there’s a market for underwater drones at that price point -- it’s certainly within the pocketbook of a drone hobbyist considering the cost of the flying variety. But even if Fathom One isn’t a sales blockbuster, there’s no doubt that Boss, Vessells and Gira have what it takes in terms of ingenuity and persistence to find the next big thing.

And when they do, let’s hope they do so through a company set up in West Michigan. They are our future in manufacturing.

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