NMC Students Fly to TCNewTech Pitch Night Win
By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 10, 2018
For a quartet of NMC students, the future is here. The initial product from their startup company won the $500 prize at TCNewTech’s October Pitch Night.
It’s not just that they won $500, but the win demonstrated the viability of the group’s product: an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable not only of flying, but also of landing in water. It then can deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) into the water.
The terminology may be confusing. A UAV – commonly called a drone – is the flying vehicle itself. An ROV might more accurately be dubbed an ROUV, as they are developed for underwater tasks – they are Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles. And an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) refers not only to the UAV (still with us?), but to the entire assemblage for operating a UAV: the ground control station with pilot, communications, support equipment, and the UAV/drone itself.
While the terminology may be intimidating, their product might seem less so when you understand it was built in large part with off-the-shelf products, starting with the drone itself. It even incorporates foam balls from JoAnn Fabrics, along with parts manufactured in the college’s 3-D printers.
“We came up with a unique UAS that carries an ROV payload. It has a tethered ROV with a winch,” said Matt Goddard, the CEO of Hybrid Robotics, the corporation founded by the four students in the NMC Makerspace, an on-campus studio space used for building and collaboration.
Goddard said he and the rest of the team – Ryan Mater, Clayton Harbin and Aaron Bottke – came up with the idea in an engineering class taught by Keith Kelly.
“We had to pick a project, and had the idea already,” said Goddard. “I picked the guys I wanted and the teacher approved it.”
They started with a unit with which they were already familiar, and then began modifying it to fit their needs.
“It’s off the shelf, a kit we build in school,” said Goddard. “Everything below was proprietary.”
While they could get it to land and even deploy the ROV, they still had to make sure the main unit itself wouldn’t follow the ROV to the bottom of the water. They found the solution just down the street from NMC’s main campus.
“We had to make it float,” he said. “One of [us] just said, ‘Let’s get some foam balls from JoAnn’s.’ That was the turnaround point.”
Once they had created the prototype, they decided to refine it before presenting it to anyone. At least, that was their plan.
“Pitch night is proof of concept. We didn’t have the second version done,” said Goddard. “We pitched it for the board of directors, and they said go now.”
So, they did … and came out the winner.
Russell Schindler, the CEO of tech company SampleServe and founder of TCNewTech, said the group’s pitch was the clear winner.
“It’s pretty cool. It could fly and then go several hundred feet underwater. It was definitely a unique product,” he said, adding, “but all the products pitched are unique.”
He said the presentation was spot on.
“You could tell they’d practiced. We give [presenters] five minutes, and if they don’t get through, we cut them off. It makes you look bad. I think he finished with three seconds to go,” Schindler said.
Their pitch gained them fans as well as the funds.
“We’ve always been in contact with [funding company] Boomerang Catapult,” said Goddard, who said their conversations continue. He also noted that their ability to create a working version in a class from easily accessed or created parts was a huge advantage.
“We got lucky,” he said. “People go into a lot of debt to make a prototype.”
Goddard said they are putting the money back into the project, which they ultimately hope to put to use for environmental research.
“We took a trip to Indonesia. Before ships come into the harbor, they do a quick inspection,” he said, which could be more easily done with their UAS.
He said they have also looked at using it to sample sediment from bodies of water.
“It can go to the middle of the lake and then fly back,” he said.
Such projects are now done by divers, which require more time and expense.
“It will save time and money,” Goddard said.