The Innovator Series with Solo Shot’s Matt Arnold
Next time you are surfing your local break, don’t be surprised if you see a robot spying on the lineup. Chances are that the robot is a Solo Shot robotic cameraman, the first automated system that tracks and films surfers while they catch waves.
Solo Shot is a Texas based robotics company on the cutting edge of surfing technology. We always love to learn about fellow tech companies innovating in the surf industry, so we picked the brain of Solo Shot’s Matt Arnold to find out more about their latest creation.
goFlow: What was the inspiration behind the SOLOSHOT robot camera?
Matt: I had spent a lot of time trying different ways to film surfing, from testing every water housing I came across to asking people to stand on the beach and shoot. The beach angle was clearly the best, but it’s really hard for a person, particularly an amateur, to stand on the beach squinting and keeping track of you for a pretty long time. They would confuse record on/off or film the wrong people, miss waves and be pretty shaky when they did catch you. I thought about giving them a tripod but that just seemed like pushing my luck! Then one day I was looking through a book of obscure surf spots and saw a picture of a wave that stunned me. I found the house with the balcony where they took the shot, rented it and waited for my picture perfect swell to arrive. When it did, I set a camera on a balcony, pointed it generally at the break and hit record. After my surf I realized two things: 1. taking the human element out of the equation resulted in great footage; 2. a static zoomed out camera was not good enough. Maybe I could make the camera recognize me and stay pointed at me in the lineup…
goFlow: How did you develop the background necessary to build a robot?
Matt: My background is in biomedical engineering, and I had some experience going from a lightning bolt in the shower to something you could actually hold in your hand. But even then I was totally unprepared for what this would take. Thankfully I have met a pretty amazing group of people throughout my life. I have gotten really good at convincing people to quit their jobs and bet everything they have, every day.
goFlow: What was the process behind creating the SS2 robot and how many prototypes did it take before you developed the SS2?
Matt: I think naivety ruled the day. We looked at the millions of dollars people told us we would need to raise to get this thing to market and we just thought, well, it will be easier for us to design and manufacture it ourselves than to get someone to give us millions to pay someone else to design & manufacture it. I had been living in the DR just surfing, kiteboarding, riding motos, playing cards and drinking beers. Just living the life so it was a shock to everyone when I said ‘Hey let’s all move to Texas and make robots.’ But we did. We rented a crappy apartment and threw mattresses on the floor and worked day and night with a former colleague of mine from the biomed days and somehow we actually shipped a product!
goFlow: What is your vision for Soloshot’s role in the surf industry?
Matt: I just wanted to make it easier for guys and girls like me to be able to get a few clips of that long planned trip or epic day without having to impose on people. That’s happening but what’s more amazing to me is the impact we are having on the professional surfer. I remember the first summer standing on a beach in Oceanside and a very famous surfer said to me without hesitation “Man, my career would be totally different if I had this thing in my 20’s”. And it’s not just lifestyle surfers who live and die from their content, we have Olympic athletes who are using this every day for breaking down video and improving. It’s pretty humbling.
goFlow: What kind of response do you receive from customers who try the SS2?
Matt: People amaze me. Our main goal is to give them a very capable tool and then get out of their way, and the response has been amazing. I remember being at a competition at Trestles and a father from Japan was watching his daughter try out SOLOSHOT before her heat. He just kept saying over and over again “This is a dream.”
goFlow: Has anyone used the SS2 in a way that was completely unexpected?
Matt: I like the dog training videos. It’s fun to see what new videos have popped up as it feels like it is opening my eyes to all these cool little communities that exist out there just like surf.
goFlow: Technology is coming to the surf industry in a big way. What technological innovations being applied to the surf industry excite you the most?
Matt: Stepping out of our own area and the software we are working on which we think will blow minds, as an engineer I am really excited about how surf is helping drive a revolution in materials and sustainable materials. I like what is happening with surfboard materials. Kelly Slater’s wave pool is pretty awesome too. And maybe kids today are 3D printing waves to mind surf instead of drawing them?
goFlow: Where do you see the robotic cameraman in 5 years? What’s next for Soloshot?
Matt: One thing I learned is that the initial idea is just the beginning. Once you take the leap and start a company you can never take your foot off the gas pedal because you will get smashed. It’s exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. Kinda like a big day.
We want to give a big thanks to Solo Shot and Matt Arnold for answering our questions and for their generous participation in helping us create the Ultimate Surf Prize.
Check out the new SS2 Robotic Cameraman from Solo Shot at www.soloshot.com
See you in the water,
Roni and the goFlow Team