What is FlightSketch?
That's a great question... Honestly, we're not quite sure yet. It has changed often but one thing has always been central to our vision - Make flying fun and engaging.
I recently started flying rockets again (after a 20 year break) with my kids. The number 1 question? "How high did it go?" And that's a great question!
After a brief search online, the immediate conclusion was this isn't going to be cheap... My first altimeter was $35 It would blink out individual digits of the max altitude in decimeters. This isn't a story from 1970, this was 2018! It was tiny and worked great, but taking the rocket apart and having the kids wait while I counted the blinks and tried to do math in public just wasn't that practical. It did have recording capability too, but the optional data transfer kit cost almost double what I paid for the altimeter. Because of that, I never bought it and never used that functionality.
My two biggest complaints were the "display" (blinking light...) and having to take the rocket apart just to read & reset it for the next flight. I already had a really nice display I carried with me everywhere I went - my iPhone. Just like about 1 billion others (literally). Turns out, there was an option for an altimeter that sent data to your phone via Bluetooth. It was $100... That's a lot of money to possibly leave hanging in a tree or just plain out of sight. Hey, it happens!
I couldn't understand why there wasn't something less expensive that was easy to use. Everything today has Bluetooth, microcontrollers are dirt cheap and pressure sensors are shrinking every day.
I'm an engineer... How hard could it be...?
Well, pretty darn hard! March 13th 2018 I ordered the first set components to test. It was up and running on a breadboard pretty quick and the first PCBs were ordered 3 weeks later. The first flight followed on April 21st. It worked! From nothing to a flying prototype in less than 6 weeks was encouraging, but it was obvious there was a long way to go.
It was easy to make a lot of data, but now what? It was too hard to use the data. How was I going store the data? It's no good trapped on my phone. Was I just going to have text files full of numbers in a folder on my computer? I guess I could plot it in Matlab or Excel. But that doesn't sound easy, and definitely doesn't sound fun...
Then came the realization that this wasn't about the hardware. Plugging a pressure sensor into a microcontroller was the easy part. Making a complete system that was simple enough that I actually wanted to use it was the challenge. It's all about the software!
From Marc Andreessen:
"Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale."
Cloud storage, infrastructure as a service, interactive web apps and mobile devices have changed the world forever. Social media has connected billions of people worldwide and knowledge and ideas are spreading at "viral" rates. #WhyNotRockets?
I needed a way to store data without thinking about it and to quickly make a plot of it --- A quick "Flight Sketch" --- That idea launched the real project, an interactive web app that will store flight logs and display data without making the user do anything. We want data to be easy. Since that first flight, there have been six flying iterations of the hardware and we've changed, well, absolutely everything since that first flight. There isn't a single component that's common between the original board and our first released product, the FlightSketch Mini.
In the spirit of spreading knowledge, all of the source code for our firmware and iOS app is available on github along with all of the CAM files for the hardware.
We've only scratched the surface, the possibilities are endless. What do you want FlightSketch to be? Let us know.