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!

Octoarchaeology!

  1. AUGUST 27, 2012 / LEAVE A COMMENT

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 street plan 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.

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 - 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!

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

How to make sure UAV aerial photography projects run smoothly

JULY 4, 2012 / 1 COMMENT

I haven’t blogged for a while so, while the weather is against me, I thought I’d sit down and write a short blog about how we approach each project so that you can understand the process we have to go through.

When I became qualified to fly my UAV commercially and was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for aerial work I had to submit my Operations Manual. I passed a flight test carried out against my own manual and had the Ops Manual approved by both the CAA and EuroUSC who administrated the qualification.

In order to keep my qualification and permission I have to adhere to the processes in my manual. I try to keep this as simple as possible for customers as I know that, at the end of the day, you really just want your photos or video!

So, I will do as much as possible to minimise the paperwork and allow us to get on with the interesting bit. This is also the reason why I am not able currently to put prices on my website. Every project is different. Some require only an hour or so of planning in the office, particularly if they are repeat projects. Others require days of planning and communication with other agencies. Generally we cannot just run out and fly a project for you as we would probably end up breaching CAA legislation, but we will try to mobilise as soon as possible if that is required.

When you first contact me it is very useful if you are able to give me an exact postcode for the site of the operation so that I can check the site online. I will also need permission of the site owner. There isn’t really any such thing a “public land”, generally there is somebody who has ownership or responsibility for the land. This may be a private land-owner or a parish, district or county council. If the land-owner is you that makes life easier! I also need to know other things. Is it a fixed date? Do you require video or still photographs? Do you need editing? If you are able to think about these things a bit before contacting me it is very helpful.

I will find out all of the above by giving you a “Form 1” (imaginative, I know!). All being well, it is the only paperwork you will have to fill out.

We will then need to carry out a site survey and risk assessment and fill in a “Form 2”. This is for our benefit as the CAA have the right to request paperwork for each operation we carry out. If the operation is relatively simple then it may be possible to carry this out on the day, otherwise we may need to make a site visit. This will all be budgeted for in my initial quote. There will be no surprises in terms of price unless you ask us to do extra work on top of what we have already quoted for.

Once we have made sure the project is feasible we will:

  1. Carry out a site survey and risk assessment
  2. Check the airspace and NOTAMs to make sure we are safe to work in that area
  3. Make sure the land-owner’s permission is obtained
    (your help with that is normally necessary)
  4. Check the weather!
  5. Carry out pre-flight checks on all our equipment
  6. Fly the operation as competently and safely as possible
  7. Ensure we have obtained the images you require
  8. Carry out post-flight checks
  9. Make sure we have left the site tidy

We will then provide you with draft images and the final images will be released on payment of your invoice. I am afraid we have to work this way now as one slightly unscrupulous customer exploited our good will.

With most of our imagery, we retain the copyright on the images and grant our customers an unlimited licence to use the images for their own purposes as long as it doesn’t involve reselling all or part of the images. In that case we would need to have further discussions before carrying out the project.

I hope this helps you to understand how we treat each project. As far as I am concerned, the safety of our customers, crew and the public are paramount so I will endeavour to provide you with great imagery at a fair price without compromising on safety.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Collaboration between HexCam and Mussett Engineering

ENGINEERS PUT SKILLS TO THE TEST TO HELP INNOVATIVE START-UP BUSINESS

Engineers at a Norfolk firm are using their skills and knowledge to support product development at a local start-up business.

Composites engineers from Mussett Engineering, in Loddon, are working with aerial photography firm HexCam, based in Taverham, Norwich, to look at ways to make their innovative radio-controlled multirotor aerial camera system lighter and stronger.

The radio-controlled aircraft are used to take aerial photos and HD video anywhere from ground level to 120m altitude.

HexCam Octocopter being launched to carry out aerial video capture

HexCam Octocopter being launched to carry out aerial video capture

Composites manager Graham Muff said: ‘These sort of projects are really interesting for us as they pose new engineering challenges.

‘This isn’t a product which we’ve worked with before but as composites engineers, we know that carbon fibre can be used to make products lighter and stronger, so it has useful applications for all sorts of businesses.’

He added: ‘The majority of our work comes from the automotive and motorsport sectors, so working closely with a local start-up business is a great opportunity for us to test our skills on something new and something really different.’

Elliott Corke, director of HexCam, said: ‘We are looking forward to working with Mussett Composites.

‘To find a specialist company on our doorstep who are open to new ideas and able to help us take our flight equipment to a new level is an exciting prospect and we hope that our collaboration is something that will continue as both our business and the UK UAV industry continue to develop.’

To find out more about Hexcam, visit www.hexcam.co.uk
To find out more about Mussett Engineering, visit www.mussett.co.uk
For more information, email hayley@lexiamedia.co.uk or call 07920 165544

Press release by www.lexiamedia.co.uk