The Agility Saietta R Project

We got an email a couple of weeks ago; would we like to go and get involved in a project to help produce promotional video for a new electric motorbike? Slightly sceptical, I took a look at their website. Have a look at it before you read on, but don’t be long, OK? You can look at it again later.

www.agilitymotors.com

So, did your eyebrows just do what mine did when I first saw the website and the Saietta R? How could I not get involved?

The icing on the cake was that the filming was to take place at the world famous Millbrook Proving Ground (second home to Top Gear and Fifth Gear).

When the day arrived, we turned up and were passed through some pretty hefty security. Within minutes it was pretty clear why; as various cars, coated in gaffer tape and full body wraps of random patterns to make recognition difficult, were being put through their paces on different areas of the site.

Agility Saietta R aerial video

The Agility Saietta R on the Millbrook hill course.

As the two Saietta R bikes were rolled off the van, it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into both the styling and technology behind the bikes. The team, most of whom are experienced bikers themselves, obviously love the machines and were keen to get going. With the ground video team running a RED Epic we were taken around to various filming sites and we had a great day filming at different points using a range of heights and speeds as the Saietta ate up the inclines and hairpins of the hill course.

Saietta R aerial photography

High level aerial panning video of the Saietta R coming out of a bend.

It is fairly disconcerting to see a bike move that fast – 0-60 in 3.9 seconds! – so quietly (we generally haven’t had problems before with our copter being noisier than a vehicle we are filming), but it is clear to see that the engineering is superb. Will (our very own biker Stig) said the bike is great to ride and it seemed to handle the Millbrook hill course very well.

Later in the day we filmed some posed vehicle and ride-away shots to facilitate the story-telling of the video. All in all, a great day and we wish the Agility team all the best as they move forwards with the production model of the Saietta R. (Video to follow when it is ready!)

Aerial video of Saietta R

Low level vertical aerial video of the Saietta R.

Agility at Millbrook

The Agility Saietta R in front of the Millbrook conference suite.

Octocopter aerial video UK

Lifting aerial video of Will walking towards the Saietta R.

hexacopter aerial video

Tracking aerial video of the Saietta R moving through the S-bends.

RED Epic Saietta R

The ground crew filming the Saietta R on RED Epic.

Octocopter video of Saietta R

Tracking the Saietta R out of the hairpin.

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HexCam filming the Tour du Congo

I have decided to move my “blog” of our project to provide aerial footage of the first Tour du Congo (le premiere Tour Cycliste International de la RDC. Tour de l’Unite) to our Facebook page, rather than here.

The only reason for that is that internet here has been a little unreliable at times and it is a lot easier to do quick little updates on Facebook.

So please take a look (and like if you like!) our HexCam facebook page at www.facebook.com/hexcam

Thanks!

Elliott – HexCam Aerial Photography

Off to the Democratic Republic of Congo

The last time I went to Africa was in 1997 as part of a team from our university. We worked on a building project as well as doing outreach work in local schools, churches and communities. We travelled as a team of 12 so it feels odd now to be sat in Heathrow airport on my own waiting for my next trip to that beautiful continent.
This time in my flight case I have two radio controlled hexacopters. My small one carries a Gopro our light compact, while the larger one carries a Sony Nex-5N. It’s a big flight case so my biggest worry is getting it on the plane.
I’ve been doing a little bit of reading on the DRC and have learnt a little bit about the tragic genocide during colonisation.
The current president is trying to instigate a “revolution de la modernite” and this is perhaps why I am here. On the surface to provide coverage of the Tour du Congo cycle race, but, looking deeper, to help to show a nation on the brink of change. Apparently there is new road infrastructure to film as well as stunning scenery.
Kinshasa is predicted to become one of Africa’s supercities over the next century if the government can maintain stability over this huge nation.
I am a little nervous but first stop Brussels then Kinshasa!

Octocopter project – wind turbine blade lift

0930

It’s freezing cold, with a heavy fog and light drizzle, which mean I can’t even see the wind turbine site as I drive over the bridge onto the Isle of Sheppey. It’s not looking a promising day for aerial video, but a month of planning on our part and years of planning for the company have come to this day and we’ll just have to make the best of it. We have approval from the land-owner and the risk assessments are complete and approved by the construction company. As I drive towards the site I can just see the two turbines looming out of the fog. Scarily big but, at 121 metres, their blade tips will be just below our maximum working height.

0945

My safety induction is completed by the site manager Paul and I am issued with my hard hat. While I wait for the rest of the video team to arrive I go through my equipment checklist and prep the octocopter for flight. There are two turbines on the site. The blades of the first turbine were lifted in December so it will make a good backdrop as the next lift happens. As we look out onto the damp site we can see the crane holding first the 40 metre blade against the hub while the team of engineers fix it into position. All three blades will need to be fixed before the lift, which is scheduled for around midday.

HexCam octocopter pre-flight checks

Hardhats don’t suit me. All PPE’d up and ready to go!

1000

Stewart and Martin from One Planet Media arrive bearing bacon sandwiches and GoPros. They have been following the project for months, creating timelapses and recording significant stages of the project. It is our first time working together, so we recce the site discussing good angles. It’s stopped raining, but visibility is still pretty poor and I need 5km visibility to fly!

1030

As forecast, the fog begins to move away and suddenly we can see the reason for the choice of site, I can now see the bridge back to mainland Kent and the industry surrounding this low-lying part of the Medway estuary. There is nothing to stop the wind here! Fortunately for us and the site team, the wind speed is forecast to be very low today. Now visibility is good, I carry out my first test flight of the day. I calibrate the octocopter and it achieves full GPS signal very quickly. I fly it a few times around an adjacent field, testing response to all controls. It feels very good today following minor adjustments over the Christmas break. Looking good!

1100

The second blade is now being fixed to the hub so we know it is going to be at least two hours until the lift. Stewart decides it would be good to get shots of the first turbine just in case the lift doesn’t happen today. So I walk the equipment to the site. As the octocopter rises I can monitor the exact height. I very rarely work above 50 metres for most projects but on this flight I top out at 115 metres with the octo now a little dot next to the immense turbine.

1130

On return to the site office I download the footage immediately to the laptop. I do this after every flight just in case I should damage the camera with a heavy landing. The footage looks good with the sleek blades against the background of the Sheppey marshes and the Medway. Although the light is still poor it is rapidly improving.

Sheppey wind turbine

Sheppey wind turbine with marshes and Medway in the background

1200

Happy that we have some good footage already, I put the first set of batteries back on charge. The site team are great and it’s hot coffees all round. Blade three is now being manoeuvred into position. This is precision engineering at its best; with over 200 bolts holding each blade to the hub, it takes time… and the biggest spanner I have ever seen!

octocopter flight wind turbine survey

The octocopter ascending to view the wind turbine blades still on the ground

1300

The riggers take a well earned lunch break with the hub now complete and ready for lift. There is a rumour of a patch of blue sky but that is quickly dispelled, although Dave, part of the site team, says he has ordered sunshine for the afternoon. With the site empty, we take the chance to carry out some tests of angles for the big lift. The octocopter is flying beautifully today in the low winds, giving a smooth overflight of the blades and hub lying ready for the lift and easily coping with drifting along at the 80 metre nacelle height. We test angles with the complete turbine in the background.

wind turbine and crane

The 80 metre high turbine nacelle covered but ready to receive the hub.

1345

Dave was right! A patch of blue sky appears behind us and begins to expand as the painstaking task of rigging the hub for the lift continues. It is only when you see the team working around the hub that you realise how big it really is. Wind conditions are perfect and the lift will definitely happen today but the timings now mean that it is a race against time with sunset at 1610. We wait, as the temperature begins to drop and the blue sky expands.

wind turbine blades

The 40 metre wind turbine blades fixed to the hub and ready to be lifted.

1500

Finally, everything is nearly ready to go and at that point the sun breaks through the retreating cloud for the first time today and I can’t resist a quick flight to make the most of the light. Although the sun has just appeared, it is rapidly descending so time is still against us.

Crane in the sunset

Sillhouette of the crane against the falling sun

Time means nothing any more!

We are losing all hope of being able to film in the light, and possibly film at all as I am not permitted to carry out night flights, but suddenly the lift begins. The tarpaulin is removed and drawn into the nacelle as a fearless rigger sits on top of the nacelle unhooking it! I ascend only to find that my lens immediately steams up due to the decreased temperature. Not wanting to miss what we have waited for all day I bring the octocopter rapidly back to the ground and use a chamois to clean the lens. Off we go again, capturing the blades lifting against the dying light. It all moves very quickly now and, when the 100 tonne blades are vertical, I land the octo for a final battery change.

I take off again and bring the octocopter round to capture the the final lift into position. Unfortunately it is getting just too dark to see the two riggers sitting in the mouth of the nacelle waiting to secure the hub into position.

As I land, the last of the light is fading away and, although the camera struggled slightly in the dark conditions, we seem to have captured some great images.

wind turbine blade lift at sunset

Dusk falls as the blades and hub being held in place by the crane while two engineers fix it in place from inside the nacelle.

1630

We trek the muddy equipment back down to the site office and pack it away as the video clips download to the laptop. Stewart magically materialises hot bacon baguettes and steaming mugs of tea which are incredibly welcome as the temperature has dropped considerably over the last hour. With the footage transferred and backed up, it’s time to go home. All being well there will be good footage to use in the project.

1730

I drive across the bridge and, looking back, can just see the floodlit turbine site as the riggers continue to secure the hub so the crane can be removed.

It was great to work with such a well organised team and I look forward to seeing the turbines in action next time I’m in the area.

Elliott – HexCam

In collaboration with One Planet Media and Partnerships for Renewables

Final videos from One Planet Media

Octoarchaeology!

I have had an interest in archaeology as long as I can remember (sounds like the beginning of a personal statement!). My mum and grandmother used to help out at digs on the Roman sites in Kent, particularly in the area where the A2 was being widened which permanently covered many sites along the ancient Roman road, Watling Street. I dabbled in marine archaeology at university but found that wading around muddy estuaries wasn’t for me.

When I found out we had such an extensive Roman site just South of Norwich I was very keen to get involved and to see if our octocopter and hexacopter could be of use to the archaeologists at Caistor Roman Project.

It is also a particularly interesting site for us as it was discovered when crop marks in a 1928 aerial photograph of the site highlighted an extensive streetplan of the Roman town. We hoped that, 84 years on, a new age of unmanned aerial photography would be able to assist the team to record the 2012 excavations, which are both taking place outside the boundaries of the town, investigating features highlighted on geophysical scans.

Last week, we spent a gloriously sunny day on site, experimenting with still photographs from different altitudes as well as video. Our priorities were as follows:

1) Obtain stills of both dig sites, with and without the context of the Roman town

2) Obtain stills of the ditch site to produce a 3D model of the excavation

3) Obtain high altitude stills to produce a panoramic image

4) Obtain video to promote the 2012 dig.

Three out of four isn’t bad! The only aim which didn’t work well was the panoramic photos. This was largely due to the fact that I didn’t obtain enough photos for the panorama software to accurately stitch the photos. Here are a couple of photos of the site taken from the octocopter with Sony Alpha Nex-5N (click the photos to enlarge):

In the left photo you can see the ditch excavation with the Roman Town in the background. You can see the embankments that surround the town and, if you look carefully, the pale lines in the grass that highlight the hidden roads of the town.

The right photo is a vertical of the main excavation. The three white lines are the predicted lines of the ditches from the geophysics.

The archaeological team then very kindly cleared out the trench to enable us to take a series of photos. We then used 123D Catch to render a model. It is easy to use the model to create an animation. I have uploaded a couple of versions (watch in 720 or 1080 if you can)!



We also got a chance to take some video of the site. This is a very quick edit showing flyovers of both main trenches and lifts to show them in the context of the town.


HexCam would like to thank the team at Caistor Roman Project for their good humour, helpfulness and cake!

HexCam Octocopter helps record new cultural centre being lifted onto Southend Pier

Earlier this year we teamed up with Apricot Productions from Lenwade, Norwich to record the final stages of an incredibly complex construction project.

When Kier won the contract to build the new cultural centre for the end of the pier at Southend-on-Sea they realised that it would be too problematic to construct the building in situ. As a result a plan was devised to construct the building on the quayside at Tilbury Port. The 170 tonne building was then lifted onto a barge and carried down the Thames before being lifted onto the pier with a marine crane.

On the two days of the “big lift” the weather conditions were almost perfect with the wind blowing about 10 knots on both days.

This was our first major project with the octocopter and we also gave the hexacopter a run out as well although it struggled a bit in the wind and GoPro footage does not stabilise well in post-production due to the fisheye effect.

Having gained permission to fly at various sites by the authorities at Tilbury Port and Essex County Council we flew at several sites in Tilbury Port and on the end of Southend Pier.

Day 1 was the initial lift onto the barge and, as the timetable was to be driven by tides and weather we had a very early start. We carried out three flights with the octocopter, filming various stages of the initial lift and drop onto the barge as well as the transition through Tilbury Lock and onto the Thames.

Due to the calm conditions, the barge was anchored overnight a short distance from the pierhead.

Day 2 saw another early start and a trip for the octocopter on the train down the pier which is over a mile long. During the day we filmed various stages of the lift and final drop onto the pier as well as a final shot of the building in situ.

Since we shot the video, the exterior cladding has been added as well as the windows and the interior of the building is now being completed.

It was an amazing project to be involved with and taught us a lot about the capabilities of our two aircraft and video gear as well as improving my piloting skills and seeing how our footage can be integrated with traditional footage to great effect.

Here is the final video.

Southend Cultural Centre – The Big Lift from Apricot Productions on Vimeo.

Elliott, HexCam

The making of a music video

What can I say? I wish we’d had this week’s weather to film the aerial shots for a music video for Norwich band …of Diamonds, but we didn’t!

When we were contacted by the band’s production team, we were very happy to get involved. We dodged rain showers and flew in 14mph winds to obtain aerial footage of Len Wright’s stunning vintage Bedford SB3 bus. The footage was then mixed in with external and internal ground-based footage of the bus and band to create the final video. Although we have work to do, particularly to cope with the post-processing challenges created by flying in high winds, we think it came out really well!

May we also say that the members of Thurton, Ashby and district WI are absolute stars!!

Below are two videos; a rough cut of some of the aerial shots and the completed pop video.
UAV: HL Octocopter

FC: DJI Wookong M

Camera: Sony Alpha Nex-5N 1080P 50fps

Enjoy the lovely weather!
HexCam