What Is It?
The LaForge module is a pair of RC modules that dock into your FatShark Dominator’s to offer you a diversity receiver built directly into your goggles.
The concept of diversity is actually pretty simple. To create one, you add an additional video receiver and add a controller chip that switches the video output so that what you see is the feed from the receiver that has the best signal.
There are two major benefits to this. The first is that you can install a directional antenna on one receiver. The directional antenna will afford you significantly improved range and clarity in one direction. You then install an omnidirectional antenna on the other receiver, allowing you to fly in all the other directions while still keeping a normal reception quality.
The other benefit is protection from multipath resistance. When you fly far enough away from your goggles, multipathing is the primary reason why you start to lose reception. This happens when reflections of your 5.8GHz signal arrive at your goggles out of phase with the direct line-of-sight signal. Think of two waves combining – if one is a crest and one is a trough – you get nothing. By using two antennas and separating them by some distance, you greatly reduce the chances that both antennas experience the same multipath loss. This is why even with two of the same antenna, a diversity setup will have better video quality than a single receiver.
Do you need it?
Depends on what you are doing. The reason I bought this set-up is because I recently started racing in a local club. Normally, when flying by myself, I have no problem with video quality at a decent range. However, in my first race I experienced absolutely awful signal quality even when flying just a couple hundred feet from myself. A local pilot let me try out his diversity receiver and viola! The problem had disappeared!
Diversity will also benefit you greatly if you want to fly out long distances. Just make sure that your control link signal is solid if you put a very high gain antenna on your video receiver. I like to have an RSSI figure on my OSD to be able to tell how my control link is doing.
So why the LaForge set-up and not a traditional tripod mounted diversity receiver? I used to use a 1.3GHz tripod receiver back in the early days of FPV and remember how much of a pain it was to bring the batteries, cables, tripod, antennas, etc out every time I wanted to fly. Doubly so to set it up. I think one of the reasons that miniquads appeals to me so much is that I can pack all of my gear into a backpack, hike up a hill and fly. I wasn’t about to go backwards in terms of progress. The LaForge set-up answers all these concerns by embedding everything into the goggles.
To make installing the LaForge module easier, we have included FatShark disassembly and LaForge installation instructions below. Want to watch the video guide? Check it out here:
Part 1 – How to Disassemble the FatShark Dominator goggles
Unlike most FatShark receiver modules, the LaForge takes up both of the bays in the goggles. It also has an LCD screen from which you control the frequency it is receiving on, as well as some other parameters. A wire must be run between the two LaForge modules. This can be run on the outside of the goggles, but looks kinda cheesy. As a result, I’ve opted to go ahead and break open my goggles so that I could install the wire inside of the enclosure.
For this project, you will need the following tools:
- Flat head screwdriver
- Small Phillips head screwdriver
The guide below shows you how to do this:
Step 1: Remove side covers and module
Remove the two side covers on the FatShark to begin the disassembly process. Removing the cover on the left side of the goggles will reveal the original (for most users) NexWave module. Remove this as well.
Step 2: Remove the mounting screws
Remove the three mounting screws on the bottom of the goggles. Put these somewhere safe so you don’t lose them when reassembling.
Step 3: Remove the bridge screw
Locate the bridge screw inside the goggles – located close to where they would rest on your nose.
Step 4: Remove face plate
Applying a bit of pressure, snap away the face plate (the plastic section with foam) from the main goggles frame.
Step 5: Separate top and bottom pieces
This part requires a decent amount of force to separate the pieces. Start by unlatching the top and bottom pieces of the goggles from the sides. You will need to really pull at the middle to separate the pieces (at least on our Dominator). Be careful not to apply too much force and in turn send all the internals flying.
Step 6: Unplug cables
Now that your Dominator is split into two parts, we need to disconnect the cables connecting each side. Using a screwdriver, gently unplug both cables. For the ribbon cable, flip the latch up and pull the cable out.
FatShark Disassembly complete
Here is a snapshot of the completed disassembly with all parts. If completed correctly you should have both pieces of the goggle, 3x connecting screws, 1x bridge screw, two covers, and the face plate.
Part 2: Installing the LaForge modules
Now that your goggles are disassembled, it is time to install the LaForge modules. To create a longer lasting and more aesthetically pleasing look to the goggles, I 3D printed some new covers that will fit over the new LaForge modules. To mount the modules flush and remove the need for wires hanging out, we are going to be modifying the goggles. This will require cutting into the plastic and making PERMANENT modifications. This is not 100% necessary, but I wanted to show the steps required if you wish to create a cleaner final look. Caution is advised as some mistakes here cannot be undone.
For this project, you will need the following tools:
- Flat head screwdriver
- Small Phillips head screwdriver
- Hobby knife
- Hot glue + hot glue gun
- Electrical tape
- Double sided tape
- Wire cutters (optional)
- Multimeter (optional, but recommended)
That said, here is how we installed the LaForge module.
Step 1: Prepare layout of modules against bottom goggles
First step is to prepare the layout of the FatShark and diversity modules. For our build, we are going to route the connecting cable inside the goggles under where the lenses would rest. This is going to require us to cut channels for the cable to pass through.
A quick note – the LaForge module will connect the same way as the original module. We have included a picture below to help with reconnecting. Technically you could just pop in the module at this point and be done, but you will have cables hanging out of the goggles when closing everything up.
Step 2: Cut channel next to FatShark LaForge module to hide connecting cable
To hide the cable within the goggles, we will cut a small channel out of the plastic next to the connector cable. To do so, we will heat up a hobby knife and carefully cut out a channel to match the size of the cable bundle. As mentioned above, this is a permanent modification so use extra caution here. After properly heating the knife, it should be very easy to slice the plastic – just take it slow. When the knife cools, reheat and continue cutting as needed.
Step 3: Cut channel for diversity module to sit cleanly within the goggles
Unfortunately, the original FatShark layout causes the diversity module of the LaForge set to protrude at an odd angle that will not fit our custom covers. We need to again cut away some of the plastic so that the module rests further into the case. You can see the plastic blocking the module below:
Repeat the same steps as above – heat the knife and carefully cut away the plastic as needed. This may take a few tries to get right, so it is recommended to cut less than is needed, check the fit, and then cut again.
Step 4: Mount the connecting cable and secure
Now that you have a clean channel connecting both sides and your diversity module fits nicely, we can secure the connecting cable. To do this, tuck the cable down to the bottom of the plastic away from all other components. To prevent the cable from moving in the future, I used hot glue to permanently affix the cable to the plastic.
Step 5: Safety measures on the FatShark and diversity modules
Before we put everything back together, we want to put some safety features on the modules. You may notice that the back of the diversity module has a large metal plate. This module backs up to a PCB within the goggles, and we want to prevent any shorts or failures in the future. To do so, we simply wrapped the top of the metal plate in electrical tape as an added safety measure.
Next, we clipped the two pins extruding from the buzzer on the diversity module. This isn’t a necessary step, but one made for the sake of convenience. The pins can get in the way, and frankly I don’t want to accidentally poke myself on them. Easy enough to just clip off the excess with a pair of wire cutters
Next, we put some double sided tape on the back of the FatShark module to create a bit of a cushion. This should help secure the module cleanly within the enclosure and prevent any bent pins, shorting, or loosening of components in the future.
And finally, we used a multimeter to test for any shorts. Before plugging in a $400 pair of modified goggles, I felt it would be a good idea to test for any shorts as a last minute safety check. To do so, we performed a continuity test used the PCB and power connector for power / ground, put the multimeter into Ohms mode, and checked the display. If there was a short, the display would read 0. If there is no short, the display will show an increasing set of numbers.
Step 6: Reassemble goggles
Time to reassemble the goggles! You will preform the steps outlined in the disassembly in reverse order. Your first step will be to plug in both cables that you disconnected in the final steps of disassembly. The ribbon cable can be a bit tricky. Make sure the pins are facing the PCB (have the blue top piece facing out away from the board) and slide the ribbon back into place using a small flat head screwdriver.
After connecting the two wires, and making sure the new modules are attached, you can close up the goggles.
The only difficult part here is making sure that the lenses line up with the IPD adjusters (the eye switches on the bottom) when connecting both sides of the goggles. The easiest way to do this is to pull the IPD switches all the way towards the bridge of the goggles. Similarly, carefully push in the lenses towards the bridge of the goggles on the opposite piece. After connecting the goggles, move the IPD adjusters to make sure they have correctly seated with the goggles. This step may take a few tries to get right – it definitely did for me when I closed up my goggles.
Screw in the connecting screws, reattach the faceplate and bridge screw, put on the head/battery strap, and you are done!
Congratulations, your LaForge FatShark and diversity modules should be installed. We used some 3D printed covers and white electrical tape to secure the new modules.
Here is the final layout with all antennas attached:
I’ve always been immensely disappointed in the NexWave receiver in my fat shark goggles. It doesn’t even get half of the range of the receiver in my Headplay goggles before it starts showing snow. The LaForge receiver totally fixed the problem. My Fat Sharks now have the best video reception of any goggles I have ever used, and can actually outrange my Spektrum DX-18 (which is a bad thing..)
Just to see if this is because the individual receivers are better or if it is the diversity, I tried removing the antenna from one of my LaForge receivers to see how it affected range. It was still pretty great. I’m growing increasingly convinced that the NexWave receivers are simply garbage. To that end, you can get a pretty great improvement to your range and clarity by simply purchasing the LaForge main module and ignoring the diversity module altogether. All told, I could not be more pleased with the performance of these modules.
My biggest gripe with the LaForge modules is that they are not shipped with all of the parts needed for a clean install. The designer seemed to think most people are comfortable with PCB boards sticking out of their nice goggles – which I am not. He should have designed and shipped them with some nice plastic covers that could clip right into the goggles. Even if the wires running across the goggles were kept, some plastic covers would have been a giant leap towards a more polished product. Luckily, there are some 3D printable designs to replace the stock Headplay covers that I will try out.
They are also pretty pricey. I understand the need to recoup some of the development costs, but it is clear from some of the other competitors on the market that the raw component cost is well under the $100 price we are seeing for the full set-up. FuriousFPV has their True-D diversity module priced at around $80 for comparison.