What Would Make a Great Pod?

Next step is to gather the requirements, so we make a pod that is truly exceptional, plus the more potential problems we consider and solve up front, the happier we will all be!

Safe: If we thought we were making a product that would add risk to pilots, passengers, or people on the ground, we would abandon the project. Everything has to be overdesigned, must fail safe, and provide no opportunity to harm anyone.

Rugged   and Reliable: If small companies have to do a lot of customer support because of bad design, they will go broke: it is as simple as that. Making a rugged system that just plain works (in this case “boring is good”) is a worthy design goal. Also, imagine the disappointment a user would experience if they landed after a gorgeous flight, and found something had malfunctioned and there was no video! Which leads us to….

Simple: We wanted the pod to appeal to people who were primarily pilots, not photographers, and yet it has to deliver broadcast quality video. It also has to produce great video, under wide ranges of temperature, weather, all the time. So a big design criteria was to keep it simple: anything   not needed was dispensed with. Important details have to be done right: fasteners had to engage positively and easily, and it had to be apparent to the user that they are engaged. Everything you need to do should be clear and obvious.

Easy to   use: What does “use” mean for a camera pod? Well, you have to load the cameras into it, turn them on, mount the pod, confirm all is well (fasteners engaged, cameras rolling), then easy to detach after the flight. So the bays that hold the cameras have to be sized correctly, the vibration absorbing mechanism has to be easy to position correctly but not bind when the pod is mounted to the aircraft, the fasteners have to be easy to attach and detach, and during a preflight it has to be really easy for the pilot to see that the fasteners are positively engaged and the cameras are functioning. That suggests a visual aide for the fasteners, and the need for a “window” thru the pod so the user can see the blinking LED in front of the camera that indicates it is functioning,

Make   great images: This is more subtle than it sounds. Where do you mount such a pod, and where do you point the cameras? Let’s say you mount it on the belly of the aircraft, to get an   unobstructed view of what is below the aircraft. Do you mount the camera parallel to the ground, and use a bunch of the image frame up on the sheet metal or composite on the aircraft belly (which never changes in the course of a flight)? Or do you point it straight down? Or pick some angle in between to show a hint of the aircraft, and yet maximize the amount of the camera frame used to show the outside? If you rule out a steerable camera because you want greater coverage for less cost, and you want no moving pieces, then you have to consider the best possible camera position, and that is almost as important as the selection of the right camera.

Flexible capability: Sometimes the thing you are really interested in is on the left of the aircraft, sometimes on the right, sometimes ahead of you. Sometimes the lighting of things behind you is better than the light on something in front of you. Sometimes you plan the flight to put the subject on   one side, but traffic forces you to put the aircraft someplace else. And lots of time something amazing you never expected to see that day happens to be under your flight path. So we decided to design in the capability to hold up to 4 cameras, all rolling at the same time, to ensure a 360 degree field of view (hence the Eagle360 name!). If you have one camera, great, pick which position you want it in. If you have more cameras, great, load them in. That is flexibility. And since these are digital cameras, all you are burning are electrons!

Room to expand functionality: We knew once we have the physical structure figured out and an STC granted, we would want to add functionality, and it was a good bet that would involve   electronics, because so much of the cool stuff these days involves computers. So we needed to build in space for an “avionics bay”, to allow us to keep adding great features and capabilities.

Low   cost: As idealistic as this sounds, our mission was to make awesome HD video accessible to virtually all general aviation pilots. Other video systems have been available for specific individual types and models, typically for well above $10,000: you had to have a real commercial reason to invest in such a system. We wanted to hit the lowest practical price point so this great, new way to enjoy flying was available to the largest number of pilots. That made for a challenging but satisfying design goal.

Immune to potential foreseeable problems: We spent a bunch of time anticipating potential   “gotchas” that could limit our pod from being the success we want it to be. The outside of an aircraft is an environment with great ranges of temperature, moisture, vibration and lots of different petrochemicals: how do we make a system that won’t be hurt by the chemicals, won’t fog up in a climb, or stop on a hot or cold day, and won’t flood the cameras if we fly through precip? The more such problems we anticipate and design around, the more terrific our pod will be.