Eurosaf High Performance Grand Prix goes remote

Remote control model helicopter - EUROSAF High Performance Grand Prix 2011
J.E. Kennedy
While the EUROSAF High Performance Grand Prix may be a first in bringing together the kiteboards, skiffs, foilers and catamarans in one regatta, another technical innovation being showcased here on Murcia’s Mar Menor is that of a remote control model helicopter from which high definition video can be shot.

The project is that of Alejandro Sobron Rueda and Jose Luis Alvarez. Both living in Madrid, Rueda is an aeronautical engineering studying at university, while Alvarez by trade is a sound engineer, the two having developed a friendship as they live near to each other and are both musicians.

Rueda has been designing and building model helicopters and planes for the last 10 years and has developed his latest flying machine over the course of the last year. The helicopter, which has been quietly buzzing over the race course, measures about 0.7 x 0.7m in plain view with eight propellers mounted in a square configuration. The propellers are driven by battery powered electric motors, enough for a flying time of up to around 20 minutes.

While the basic design and technology used in the helicopter is of German origin, Rueda has carried out considerable customisation to accept the two cameras fitted to it. One camera is a miniature low resolution webcam type, while the other, slung beneath the main body of the helicopter, is a compact lightweight GoPro. The former is the ‘pilot’ camera while the GoPro records the high definition footage. Images from both are beamed back to a base station ashore where there are two screens showing the output from the cameras.

However this is just the beginning. Telemetry from a GPS is beamed back from the chopper and there is an ‘auto’ mode which can be programmed with latitude, longitude and altitude, so that the helicopter remains hovering in one position or when it is in a good position it can be simply told to ‘stop’. Alternatively the helicopter can be programmed to follow a set of waypoints, as you can on a standard GPS. Finally if there is a communication failure between the chopper and the base station there is a fail-safe that causes the helicopter to return home. Very clever.

Even better Rueda has a pair of video goggles which can also be used to view the output from the cameras and he is working on a system whereby movement of the pilot’s head can be used to direct the GoPro camera.

While both Rueda and Alvarez are watersports enthusiasts, up until coming to Murcia the first outings for the helicopter have been more in Alvarez’s field, videoing indoor concerts from previously unachievable positions.

'There are some helicopters with four, five, six, seven, eight propellers,' says Rueda. 'But I think this is the best for operating with 1.5-2kg of cameras, etc. You can use it inside buildings. We have been recording in cathedrals and it is nice for that.'

The helicopter had its first outing over water yesterday in less than 10 knots of wind, however Rueda is already planning a new version, still with eight motors, but bigger, capable of flying around with 2-3kg of camera kit and a longer range, in up to 20 knots of wind. 'You can fly a helicopter in maybe 20 knots, but for good video you have a lot of vibration and movement.' Seeing some of the footage shot from the helicopter there seems to be no problem with vibration but this was in less than 10 knots of wind.

At present the range of the helicopter is about 1.5-2km says Rueda. At the EUROSAF High Performance Grand Prix they are flying at low altitude due to the proximity of the race courses to Murcia airport, but they have previously taken it up to 1400m.

Whether they will start selling the helicopter and video camera attachments remains to be seen but one imagines there are any number of potential outlets from television production companies, to, as Rueda suggests, spies.

Event website