T-Shirts and Stickers Shipped + More Updates!

We apologize for the long delay since our last update but we promise that we have been working hard to get your thrusters to you as soon as possible!

Where are we at with that?

Well, there’s good news and some bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

The Bad News

A few days ago we were notified by one of our suppliers that they are delayed an additional two weeks before they can ship our order. That’s a bummer because we have everything else ready for assembly and the delay will push our delivery schedule back a few weeks.

Right now we are expecting to deliver the first batch of thrusters in the second half of November. This will only affect people who ordered thrusters with no speed controllers or with the Basic ESCs. Thrusters ordered with the BlueESC will not be affected.

The Good News

Fortunately, there’s a lot more good news than bad news!

T-Shirts and Stickers for “Supporter” and “Founder” Reward Levels

Most T-shirts and stickers were shipped on Wednesday! Many of you have probably already received them. There are few people who haven’t provided their shipping addresses yet and we will follow up with them directly through email. If you haven’t responded to the survey please do so!

Static Thruster Testing at Depth

We were out in the Santa Monica Bay this week testing the SolarSurfer. While we were out there, we performed a static (unpowered) depth test of the thruster to determine if there would be any structural damage to the thruster at great depths. We lowered it to a depth of 800 ft (250 m) for a few minutes. There was no damage whatsoever and no change in performance after the test.

800 ft is really nothing compared to the full depth of the ocean. Fortunately, we are working with a testing facility to test the thruster to full ocean depth of 11 km. It will be a few months before we get the results but we are very excited to see what the thruster can do when pushed to the limits.

BlueESC

We now have a prototype of the BlueESC squeezed into the form factor necessary to mount in the front of the thrusters. And it works! It’s got a few bugs to iron out, but nothing major. We’ve tested it to full load with the T100 and will test with the T200 prototypes in a week or two.

The production BlueESCs will be built by CircuitHub, which is a very cool service for PCB manufacturing and assembly. We will do final assembly (soldering leads, LEDs, and potting in the aluminum enclosure) here in Redondo Beach.

T200 Thruster

The T200 prototypes will be tested in the coming weeks. We have the stators in hand – we’re just waiting for 3D printed parts to arrive for testing. If we’re happy with the design, we’ll order the injection molding tooling and parts immediately.

We’ll share results as soon as we are able to test the prototypes!

BlueROV

After the Kickstarter campaign we decided to redesign the central water tight container (WTC) of the BlueROV for extra security and reliability at depth. We’ve gone through a few design iterations to reach the best design.

We started with a flat gasket seal on each side of the tube with rods to clamp the end caps on securely and compress the gaskets. This works alright but requires the ends of the tubes to be very smooth to avoid leaks. We’ve abandoned that design in favor of a double O-ring design. There are a few advantages to this design:

  • No need for rods to hold the end caps
  • Double O-rings provide better leak protection
  • The end-caps now support the tube for better performance at depth

Additionally, we came up with a clever way to pass connections through the WTC so that they are removable. It doesn’t require expensive connectors! We’ll share more details when we are closer to shipment.

SolarSurfer

We did a big test of the SolarSurfer this week. Unfortunately, it didn’t go exactly as planned, but we learned a lot, which is why this is still listed under good news. 😉

We were attempting to send to the SolarSurfer from Los Angeles to Monterey, CA. The trip, as planned, is approximately 300 miles and would take several weeks to complete. We launched on the 14th but (literally) hit a snag on the second day of the trip. One of the thrusters sucked in a piece of sea grass and jammed. Fortunately it was still close enough that we were able to recover it!

We think this will be fairly easy to fix with some plastic mesh stretched over the front of the thruster and secured with the four outer screws. Since this would be useful to all of you, we will post instructions if it works. Anybody have any other clever ideas for seaweed avoidance?

What to Expect Next

Here’s where we think we are at in terms of schedule and deliveries.

Approx. November 20th: Shipment of the first hundred T100 Thrusters and Early-Bird OpenROV Compatible Kits. This covers all early-birds who didn’t order the pre-installed BlueESC or T200s.

Approx. December 12th: Shipment of remaining T100 Thrusters that do not have the pre-installed BlueESC plus the remaining OpenROV Compatible Kits.

Approx. December 30th: Shipment of BlueROVs that do not include the pre-installed BlueESC.

January: Shipment of BlueESCs and shipment of the the T100s and BlueROVs with BlueESCs pre-installed.

February-March: Shipment of T200 Thrusters.

This is all more or less in line with our original schedule when you include the delays for BlueESCs and T200s. If you have an urgent need for your reward to be delivered sooner than shown above, and you haven’t talked to us already, shoot us an email at info@bluerobotics.com and we’ll see what we can do.

That’s all for now! Please email us or leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts! We’d love to hear from you.

Kickstarter Update #12: Backer Surveys + Updates!

It’s been one week since the T100 Thruster Kickstarter campaign ended! We’ve already been hard at work making sure that everything goes smoothly. Here are some updates:

What If You Pledged An Incorrect Amount?

A few people have emailed us telling us that they pledged the incorrect amount for the number of thrusters and ESCs that they wanted. We set up a “Kickstarter Credit” item on our online store. If you pledged an incorrect amount, you can use the Kickstarter Credit to fix your pledge. Each credit is worth $1, so if you underpaid by $20, you can purchase 20 Kickstarter Credits.

Here’s the link to the credit: https://www.bluerobotics.com/store/uncategorized/kickstarter-modification-credit/

Please only use the Kickstarter Credit if your pledge amount is incorrect. If you want to purchase more thrusters or ESCs, please do so through our online store. More products will be available for pre-order in the next week.

Production Status

In the spirit of being open about our company and products, we’d like to keep you all updated on the production status of your rewards! Besides that, it’s pretty interesting to see what goes into developing and producing a product like the T100 Thruster.

Stickers:

The stickers have been ordered. They are waterproof (as promised) and will look like this:

There are actually seven individual stickers on the sheet. Every backer who backed the “Supporter” reward level or higher will receive a sheet of stickers!

T-Shirts:

The T-shirts will be ordered very soon as well. We are still waiting on a few surveys. They are screen-printed and look like the shirts we wore in the Kickstarter video.

T100 Thruster:

We’ve been ordering everything we need to complete the thrusters and should be able to get the first ones out the door by the end of October. There’s way too much to go into detail, but here are some highlights of what we’ve been doing:

We already have the full quantity of:

  • Motor shafts
  • CNC aluminum rotor bases
  • Steel rotor flux rings
  • Plastic bearings
  • Custom shaft collars
  • Threaded inserts

On the way:

  • Several thousand feet of custom cable
  • Several thousand custom neodymium magnets
  • Production prototypes of wound and coated stators (from subcontracted company)
  • And 21,000 screws (crazy, right?)

Upcoming soon:

  • Thousands of injection molded plastic parts
  • Internal wiring PCBs (used to connect wires from stator to cable or BlueESC)
  • Full production run of wound and coated stators (after approving prototypes)

That list covers every single part. Once everything is received, the assembly process is the only thing remaining before shipment. We’ll provide more updates when we get there.

T200 Thruster:

We have a few sample stators and we are working on the mold design for the three new injection molded parts that are needed.

BlueESC

In one of the last updates, we showed you a low current test of the BlueESC. We’ve now successfully completed a high current test! We’re in the process of laying out the ESC schematic into a much more compact board that will fit on the front of the T100 and T200 thrusters.

OpenROV Compatible Kits

The OpenROV kits contain two regular thrusters, covered above, plus one modified thruster that fits in the OpenROV vertical thruster position.

What is that modified thruster like? Well, it’s not so much a modification as it is a new embodiment of the T100. We’re not going to say too much about it until we can show you the production version, but it’s very cool. It is not exclusive to the OpenROV at all and can be used in many different applications! Wait and see.

BlueROV

We’ve made a few minor changes to the overall design as well as some big improvements to the central water-tight container (WTC) that houses the electronics. The WTC is incredibly important because it protects hundreds of dollars of electronics from the water and pressure. Since this is a “Hacker Edition”, we expect you to open and close the WTC often to make changes, debug, etc., so we’re trying to make it as quick and easy as possible while providing a reliable seal that works at several hundred meters under water.

We have made several prototypes and have improved ones in the works. We’ll provide more info and test results as we progress!

That’s all!

Thanks for reading this far. We’ll continue to provide regular updates throughout the development and production process! Thank you to all of you for backing us and believing in us!

Happy Thrusting!

-Rusty, Joe, and Josh from BlueRobotics

Kickstarter Update #11: Successful Kickstarter for the T100 Thruster!

The T100 Thruster Kickstarter campaign is finished! We had a great end to the campaign, reaching 360 backers and over $102K! We are truly grateful for the support that each and every one of you has given us. We will work incredibly hard to make sure that you get your thrusters on time!

Here are some fun statistics about the campaign:

What Now?

Now that the campaign is over, here’s what will happen:

  1. Within a few days, we send surveys through Kickstarter. In the survey, you will provide your shipping address and tell us how many thrusters and ESCs you backed. We will obviously verify that against the amount you pledged but we want to make sure that we get things right. If you didn’t add speed controllers but would still like to, we will include a place on the survey to say so. We will follow up with you afterwards to collect the additional money directly through our website.
  2. As of right now, our online store is live at store.bluerobotics.com. The T100 is available for pre-order and we will add the T200 in the near future. Make sure to check back for other marine robotics products as well!
  3. We have our work cut out for us, and there is a lot to do! We will continue to send out updates so that you know what is happening in the development and production process. Stay tuned.

Again, thank you for backing us!

Happy Thrusting!

-Rusty, Joe, and Josh at BlueRobotics

First Test of the BlueESC

Here’s a video showing the first test of the BlueESC

This is our Rev.1 prototype. It’s not waterproof or integrated yet, but it works! Stay tuned for continued testing and development. All source files, schematics, and board layouts are available on the BlueESC Github Page.

The Kickstarter is Live! Let’s do this.

In case we haven’t made it clear to you through our mailing list, Twitter, Facebook, or our home page:

The T100 Thruster Kickstarter is Live Now!

You’ve got from now until September 11th to back us, but don’t wait. There are early-bird reward levels that will only last so long. We need all the help we can get to launch the thruster and to start enabling the field of marine robotics to just about anyone! Your help means the world to us, so back us now!

24 Hours to Launch!


to:

We’re in the final hours before the T100 Thruster Kickstarter campaign launches!

We’ve made a few small changes to the campaign since we launched the preview last week. Here’s the important changes:

  • The rewards were all rounded to make the math easier for multiple quantities. The Early Bird Thrusters are now $90 each and the Regular Thrusters are $100 each.
  • We added a BlueROV Kit Reward Level. This includes the frame, thrusters, and ESCs and requires some basic assembly. You still need to provide the electronics. We recommend a 3DR APM2.6 Autopilot and a Raspberry Pi.
  • We are now including forward/reverse electronic speed controllers (ESCs) with any reward level for $20 each. They can handle up to 20 amps and are great for the T100s.

We also added some great data charts to the Kickstarter page and to the thruster. Check it out.

Remember, it launches at 8:30am Pacific TOMORROW.

– Rusty, Joe, and Josh

Announcing the T100 Thruster Kickstarter!

Today we are excited to announce a Kickstarter Campaign for our first product, the T100 Thruster.

The T100 is an underwater electric motor and propeller that is powerful, resistant to saltwater corrosion, and extremely affordable at $99 each. Before now, you would have to spend $500-$3,000 to buy a thruster, making marine robotics an exclusive field reserved for government, institutions, and large companies. We hope to change that.

The Kickstarter campaign will launch on August 12th, 2014 at 8:30am Pacific, but you can check out a preview of it right now:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/847478159/913072768?token=fec31ec5

Please feel free to let us know what you think and spread the word! We need your help to make this happen!

Thruster Test Stand

This post will show the thruster test stand used to measure thrust, rpm, and power. We’ll describe the test stand itself and a future post will talk about the electronics used to collect data.

Here’s the test stand in action.

Thrust test of a Thruster-100 generating about 5 lb of thrust.

We used a 40 gallon aquarium as our test tank but the test stand is designed to fit on smaller and larger tanks too.

The most important part of the test stand is an accurate load cell that we can measure the force of the thruster. It needs to be able to accurately measure forces in both the forward and backward directions. Unfortunately, the only load cells we could find to do this were hundreds of dollars. Instead, we added some weights to pre-load the load cell to about half its capacity and tare the sensor before making any measurements. The Measurement Specialties FC-22 is used. It is inexpensive and can measure from 0-25 lbf with +/- 1% accuracy.

Measurement Specialties FC-22

The Measurement Specialties FC-22 used to measure the thruster force.

A frame of extruded aluminum T-slot tubing sits on top of the tank. The thruster mounts to an L-shaped piece that pivots so that when the thruster produces forward thrust, it presses down on the force sensor. The weights are mounted on the same L-shaped piece to pre-load the sensor. When the thruster produces forward thrust it increases the force on the sensor and when it produces backward thrust it reduces the force on the sensor. A microcontroller measures the force as well as the voltage, current, and power being used by the motor.

Evolution of a Thruster

We’ve been working on the BlueRobotics Thruster-100 for almost nine months now. It started as a side project to replicate a commercial grade thruster but evolved into much more. We think it would be cool to share some of that process. This first post shows the evolution of the thruster design from day one until now.


We started by trying to replicate the “industry standard” commercial thruster design, which is essentially a motor sealed in a tube. A shaft extends from the end of the tube to attach to the propeller and a nozzle protects the propeller and increases the thrust. There’s several ways to create a sealed shaft: you can use sealed bearings with grease or you can use a magnetic coupling. Our first four design revisions used magnetic couplings to link the motor to the propeller through a watertight seal. Inside the tube, the magnetic coupling attached to an RC airplane brushless motor.

A few examples of commercial thrusters that inspired our original design.

We stuck with this design for our first four revisions but we ran into a lot of trouble. They had sensitive tolerances, expensive parts, and we needed steel ball bearings that would corrode in saltwater. We also had trouble finding an off-the-shelf brushless motor that had the high torque and low speed needed for a marine propeller.

Our first prototype, mostly hand machined on a lathe (left) and a section view of our Revision 4 design, showing the motor and radial magnetic coupling (right).

We decided that we needed to build our own brushless motor – one that had high torque and was very efficient. We built a number of test motors with different stators, windings, and magnets to find one that worked well underwater. In the process we imagined our current thruster design. Here is the entire evolution of the thruster design from day one until now.

What makes the new design different? It gets rid of the tube, seals, and couplings. Instead of sealing the motor in a tube, each part of the motor is sealed with a protective coating and the bearings are high-performance plastic. When running, water flows freely through the motor but it’s protected from short circuits and corrosion. Injection molded plastic parts from Proto Labs form the structure of the motor. It was a dramatic change from our starting point but it results in an affordable, high-performance thruster. For more info about the thruster design, check out the thruster page.

MakerCon 2014

We were fortunate enough to be invited to speak at MakerCon 2014 with Scott and Adam from Dragon Innovation during their workshop titled, “The Hardware Challenge: Going From Idea to High Volume Manufacturing”. During our portion of the workshop we described our journey from idea to prototype, the challenges we encountered along the way, and where we plan to go. We had a great crowd who had a lot of interest and questions for us!

The slides from that presentation are available on SlideShare and embedded below.

Be sure to check out Scott and Adam’s slides as well. They talked about some great stuff including how to select a factory, how to manage a factory, and how to do crowdfunding right.

bit.ly/Dragon-MakerCon-Introduction

bit.ly/Dragon-MakerCon-Crowdfunding

bit.ly/Dragon-MakerCon-Factory-Selection

bit.ly/Dragon-MakerCon-How-To-Manage-A-Supplier