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Drones for the Cinematography Industry

31 August 2017

The film industry has been using drones to capture difficult takes for some time now, but the process requires at least two experts: one to pilot the drone and one to control the camera angle. This is very expensive and takes long time to achieve. A better solution is to have camera drones behaving like robot vacuum cleaners. To clean a room you don’t specify to the robot the path to follow; you just specify the objective: to have the room cleaned. The robot vacuum cleaner will do the job without more human interaction. A similar approach could be taken with drones used in films. The drone should capture the scenes at its own discretion. The director should not be concerned where the drone is at a specific time.

This is what Tobias Nägeli, a doctoral student in the Advanced Interactive Technologies Lab of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) thinks. With a team from Delft University (TU Delft) in the Netherlands and ETH Zurich, they developed an algorithm to be used with filming drones where the drone behaves independently, without the direct interaction of the director and cinematographers of the film.

“The algorithm takes high-level plans as input, which we dub virtual rails, alongside interactively defined aesthetic framing objectives and jointly solves for 3D quadcopter motion plans and associated velocities,” says Nägeli.

The algorithm can also be used in drones filming sports activities, such as ski or car races that require many dynamic shots. In industrial facilities, where inspection of parts in dangerous locations is needed, an intelligent drone can do the job safely.

A dramatic video demonstrating the algorithms can be seen here:

The results of the research was published in IEEE Robotics and Automatic Letter. An abstract can be found here:

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