Wired ran this interesting story yesterday about a new company that's developing a quadrocopter specifically for shooting stylish high-vantage automotive videos like the ones on Top Gear. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars renting a helicopter to shoot a mountainside race track, TV shows and movies can attach lightweight video cameras to cost-effective drones which can handle both aerial maneuvering and camera control. The company, Kippenberger Racing, has created a UAV system that costs $5000, which is controlled by two operators and has GPS routing:
The hardware is, according to Kippenberger, a “special sauce” made up of a GAUI GU-INS flight controller, along with carbon fiber blades, lithium-ion battery packs and a custom camera mount designed to fit everything from DSLRs to larger video cameras.
As you can see from the Kippenberger promo photo, the small drone can hold at least a small digital camera (in this case, I spot a Sony NEX-5n!). Though to be truly effective, the camera used should have remote viewfinder capabilities so the camera operator can frame the moving shot without just guessing from the ground. Additionally, the drone doesn't look like it has any gyro-based stabilization system, so the footage may be shaky from wind knocking the drone around at high altitudes. Dramatically cut video from Kippenberger looks stable enough, though that may be a result of post-processed footage.
Drone-based camera systems aren't groundbreaking, the they are definitely becoming more affordable as both quadrocopter and camera technologies mature. At the NAB Show this year, we saw a $300 GoPro Hero2 attached to a DroidWorx drone that looked like it had stabilization gear. Drone manufacturers like DroidWorx, DJI, and Gaui (the system used by Kippenberger) sell kits that range from $500 to $1000, and hobbyists can add their favored transmitters, flight controllers, and camera gimbals. The video below gives a good demonstration of the capabilities of many different types of DIY camera drone systems.
For off the shelf UAV video, the soon-to-be-released Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 has a built-in HD camera for video recording (forward looking only). I've used the new Parrot model in an indoor test, and its iOS-based remote control system is much improved from the first AR.Drone. Recorded video quality was improved too, but still not great for recording fast motion. Attaching a GoPro camera to the drone may be possitble--AR.Drone users expect it to be able to carry objects that weigh under 200 grams--though stabilization is an issue since the AR.Drone was not designed or built for lifting anything at all. Especially not a cup of coffee.