HEXO+ goes Hollywood with prototype follow-me drones

HEXO+ goes Hollywood with prototype follow-me drones

Action cameras, led by GoPro, are by far the hottest, fastest-growing segment of the camera market. With their success, more focus has been put on their limitations. The biggest of which is that they are typically limited to a single point of view, usually that of the wearer. Sure, you can put them on a selfie stick, like Tony Hawk did with Sony’s 4K action cam, but even then the full video also needed to include footage shot from a helicopter to make it compelling.

The HEXO+ is based on widely available hardware with massively modified software to allow sophisticated Hollywood-like cinema to be recorded autonomously

HEXO+ goes Hollywood with prototype follow-me drones

The obvious first step in going beyond a single point of view was the invention of “follow-me” autonomous drones. By using GPS and inertial navigation information from the subject, the drone could calculate a flight path that would keep it a certain distance away and aimed at the subject. The Iris+ from 3D Robotics, and the soon-to-be-shipped AirDog implement follow me capability. However, the HEXO+ system is designed to take autonomous filming to the next level. Instead of limiting the drone to a simple set of instructions about distance and framing, HEXO+ will allow the photographer to create entire storyboards, with 360-degree spins, pans, and zooms.

HEXO+ app will appeal to every wannabe cinematographer

I got to play with an early version of the HEXO+ storyboarding application for iOS and it is really compelling. Using simple-to-understand icons and steps, the app lets you script your video. You can then attach your choice of GoPro to the drone and go for it. I spoke with champion snowboarder and HEXO+ co-founder Xavier de Le Rue about his inspiration for the project. He had been using drones for years as part of his video production company, but was always frustrated both by the extra expense of a film crew, and the lack of precision that was possible with human-controlled flight. He says the HEXO+ can perform slow-speed pans much more precisely than the remote-control model that is typically used.

HEXO+ goes Hollywood with prototype follow-me drones

To showcase the performance of the HEXO+, the team shot this video, Freedom of Movement, entirely with the prototype model in autonomous mode:

At the right you can take a look at the app and get a better understanding of how the system will work.
Coming soon to an extreme venue near you

The HEXO+ hardware is still a prototype, with the company making final decisions about which flight controller to use, and working on polishing the software — which is based on the open-source 3D Robotics code with the manual mode removed. The first version will not include vision capabilities for obstacle avoidance or subject tracking, but the team is looking at those and other features for future versions.

HEXO+ is planning production units starting around March, with at a price of $1500, but pre-orders are priced at $1150, with a $1000 special for CES 2015 attendees.

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