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Collaborative Project with Southampton University: Advanced UAV

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

You may have seen a competition over on the Blue Peter website to name and design the look for a new remotely operated aircraft that the BBC hopes to use in capturing aerial footage in the future.


Drone in Flight

Southampton University UAV undergoing flight tests. Click for full size image.

This is an experiment that BBC R&D have been working on over the last few months, to equip an “unmanned aerial vehicle” (or UAV for short), built by University of Southampton, with BBC broadcast cameras. BBC R&D has developed new kit to enable us to film from the air, with improved shot stability and accuracy. We have also built the capability to stream HD footage directly from the aircraft to a BBC computer in real time.

This type of aerial filming technology is not new. Creatively the BBC has been using remote controlled aircraft and other systems to capture material for some time now – for example, the small buggies used by the Natural History Unit to sneak up on lions in the savannah. 

At BBC R&D, we are always looking at ways to evolve technology, and want learn more about how this type of aerial filming might be used in broadcasting. As with all footage the BBC captures, we have clear guidelines in place governing what we can show on screen. What is exciting here is the possibility of bringing new angles to audiences.

We are working with colleagues across the BBC to explore what opportunities this unlocks, for example, where this may replace helicopter filming as a cost effective alternative, or capture shots from locations we wouldn’t be able to otherwise reach. As UAV technology becomes more mainstream, I hope that this programme of work helps the BBC understand its potential in more detail.


Drone is prepared for flight

Staff and students of the University of Southampton prepare the UAV for flight. Click for full size image.

This particular UAV is a brand new design from a team at Southampton University, and is one developed by staff and students from their taught MSc in Unmanned Vehicles System Design. It is always great to be working with a UK university team and helping turn research into real-world solutions. It’s even more exciting that by working with the Blue Peter team the project has given us the opportunity to get young people interested in science and engineering.

What is particularly interesting about this aircraft is that much of it has been '3D printed', a process where the digital designs that are created on a computer are directly turned into plastic shaped components, allowing a very lightweight and efficient design to be quickly developed.  Since flying their first 'printed' UAV last year the team have been developing generations of larger planes, and it's now developed to the point where a camera suitable for capturing broadcast material can be carried aloft. I'm looking forward to seeing what names and designs the Blue Peter viewers come up with, and we’ll keep you posted on this blog.



  • Comment number 1.

    I will keep an eye on this with interest as these aircraft become more widely used. It looks like they have got a bit of work to do to remove the jello effect from the footage shown on Blue Peter though. Our next multirotor UAV, currently in testing, is capable of carrying a DSLR. Fun fun!

  • Comment number 2.

    Handling vibration and stabilising the image is one of the main areas of R&D's engagement in this project- at lower frequencies the combination of GPS and gyro stabilisation in the airframe, and motion compensation in the camera optics and using our algorithmic approach to stabilisation work well, but the high frequency artefacts that lead to 'jellyvision' are non-trivial challenges. You may find that using a DSLR makes the problem more pronounced- "rolling shutter" is a feature common to most DSLR CMOS sensors, and it is one feature that militates against their approval for use in broadcast content, especially when coping with vibration or fast panning shots. We would be very interested to hear how your work progresses- feel free to drop us a line at the contact address on our website.

  • Comment number 3.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Ant
    I know what you mean. We eliminated all the vibration balanced the motors etc (remember I have 8 props and motors to balance).
    Jello was a nightmare when we first set up. The problem we were getting is, as you say, high frequency resonance due to mainly a resonance that forms when the motors are moving at different speeds to induce yaw. We use a floating mount on our octocopter. We have tested it with a Canon 550D and I am now using a Sony Alpha Nex-5N which are both working well. I find the higher the frame rate the better so we are filming at 1080p 50fps and then conforming down to 25fps. We were helping with a short film over the weekend and the team were very happy with the results. We are filming again this weekend. I will try to find your details. We are at www.hexcam.co.uk if you want to have a look. There is no footage from the octocopter on there yet due to the "lovely" weather we have been having and the fact that I can't release the footage we filmed at the weekend yet.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is interesting that they won't allow a DSLR, which can produce some stunning results, but will allow a GoPro, for example on the One Show drone segment a couple of months ago, where the downlink quality was horrific! Ant, are you at Southampton or the BBC, sorry, I can't figure out which email you mean.


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