'Hexacopter' changes the way TV reporters work

'Hexacopter' makes BBC News debut

Related Stories

I am not old, but I accept that this could be an old man thing to say. I cannot believe how things have changed since I first started work.

When I walked through the doors of BBC Essex as a not very fresh-faced reporter in the mid-1990s the first thing they gave me was a big box of kit I could barely lift.

Inside was a reel-to-reel tape recorder called a Uher (pronounced Yyu-er) and I had to lug it everywhere, including to my first job, interviewing a farmer in a field.

Sixteen years later, the farmer in the field bit has not changed, but the kit - my goodness. Well, have a look at the film. I have just become the first BBC reporter to use a "hexacopter".

Start Quote

The pictures speak for themselves. You cannot get shots like that with a helicopter”

End Quote
New perspectives

I say "I" but there is a fantastic team involved. All I did was stand there trying not to fluff my lines while the hexacopter - a multi-bladed lump of carbon and titanium, sounding like a swarm of bees, flew towards me before catapulting itself into the sky.

The pictures speak for themselves. You cannot get shots like that with a helicopter, or a steadicam, or a boom, a jib, a dolley, a cream bun. OK, I made that last one up but you take the point.

Hexacopter The hexacopter is able to take video footage while soaring in the air and creeping across the ground

This machine is unique in being able to go close to something then soar into the air in one smooth movement. It can creep along the ground, shimmy a fence, crawl through a tree then climb to 400ft (120m) for a spectacular panorama.

As television and online journalists, we are very excited about its scope to change the perspective of our films.

Working in tandem

Hexacopter is run by a team from the Global Video Unit, part of BBC World Service Language Services. This was the first time everyone had used it so there were a few nerves fluttering around.

Our pilot, Owain, spent six months training for a special licence. There is another pilot, Tom Hannen, and between them they gave birth to the thing, building it before learning to fly it.

This is not the kind of machine you pick up in a shop - the kind of thing I have bought in the past and then flown into a tree.

Owain has got his hands full with the flying so he is helped out by a camera operator, Rhian. They have to be in tune for the best results, like circling your stomach and patting your head at the same time.

Owain with the hexacopter There are strict rules regulating where the hexacopter can fly and film

The first problem we had was the weather. There's no real point in flying if the wind is gusting above 20mph (32kph) and we were right on the limit.

The camera is mounted on a gimbal, a pivoted support that allows it to rotate, that keeps it steady even when the chopper is dancing around.

Have a look at how smooth the shot is, and that's despite the fact that the hexacopter was being tossed like a feather on the wind.

Learning curve

In the end, we figured that the best way to milk the machine's capabilities was to use it to surprise the viewer.

When the camera first comes out from behind the barrels, and points at me wearing my orange outfit, we hope you think it is just a person walking along with a camera on their shoulder.

Start Quote

The hexacopter is able to take a camera to places it has never been before, giving people a whole new view on the world”

End Quote

Then comes the reveal. The camera takes off, flies over my head and climbs above the rail yard, just as a train is pulling out.

Confession time now. It took a long time to get that 20-second piece of telly right. Three or four hours, although that only includes 40 minutes flying time, 10 minutes per battery.

That is a long time for news, but we were on a steep learning curve. And there is another problem too. The noise of the rotors, the bee swarm problem. We have had to cheat the sound a bit to quieten it down. Credit here goes to my producer Jonathan Sumberg.

Regulated machine

Now, you might be thinking that this is a little bit sinister, potentially. That hexacopter could soon be flying over your head, spying.

I can put that worry to bed now - we are not allowed to use it like that. For starters, the BBC has established and strict filming rules, and secondly, the hexacopter is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority. That means we cannot:

  • fly within 50m of a road or building unless it's under our control
  • fly over crowds
  • fly 500m horizontally or 120m vertically from the pilot

It also means we have to log a flight plan before every take-off. As an extra safety layer, there is a GPS-based system on board that ensures that if the radio link breaks down between the pilot and the machine it automatically flies back to where it took off from, and lands.

This was just our first go, which is why it took four hours to get the opening sequence right - but I admit we all absolutely loved using this machine. Believe me, it will transform television and online news.

The hexacopter is able to take a camera to places it has never been before, giving people a whole new view on the world. And we are very excited about that.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    PADDY POWER 08:29:
    David Moyes statue outside Anfield

    The betting business says it has experienced a record 35% rise in the number of new customers at 795,000 more punters. It says it has done this without increasing spending on marketing. Spending on stunts, however, included these: "We put an 'In case of emergency break glass' encased Alex Ferguson wax model outside Old Trafford... and erected a giant bronze statue of Moyes for services rendered - outside Anfield before the Liverpool versus Chelsea showdown."

     
  2.  
    AEROFLOT RESULTS 08:18:
    Aeroflot

    More airline news. Russia's state-controlled Aeroflot reports a loss of 1.9bn roubles (£35m) for the first half of 2014. That compares to a 45m rouble profit a year ago. The slowdown in the economy and a fall in the value of the rouble against other world currencies are among the reasons.

     
  3.  
    QANTAS 08:03:
    Kangaroo

    Shares in the Flying Kangaroo are up 7.3% at A$139 in the wake of its hefty loss. "We are focused now in the short to medium term on the transformation program," said chief executive Alan Joyce. "We are not actively out there looking for an airline investor." Investors are actively buying its shares though - a new law is opening the doors to foreign investment in the international arm of the airline.

     
  4.  
    AA RESIGNATIONS 07:48:
    AA logo

    There seems to be some upheaval at the top of the AA. Its chief executive Chris Jansen is resigning immediately. The chief financial officer Andy Boland is leaving too.

     
  5.  
    ICE SALES 07:39: Radio 5 live
    Alex Brown of Exeter Chiefs takes part in the Ice Bucket Challenge

    The charity ice bucket challenge appears to be boosting the sale of ice cubes. Tesco says they're up 20%. Paul Doughty, managing director of The Ice Company told Wake up to Money his firm had been busy restocking supermarkets - which saw big sales last weekend. But he explained that this was a bit of a challenge. "At this time of year, we are actually ramping down production, sales get run down over the summer, and we start to reduce our staffing levels in our factories through August."

     
  6.  
    LIVING WAGE 07:31:

    What is is? It is set at £8.80 an hour for London and £7.65 for the rest of the UK. Find out here. The minimum wage - the government's base line, is £6.31.

     
  7.  
    PADDY POWER 07:26:
    Paddy Power pic from website

    Betting giant Paddy Power says pre-tax profits are down 13% at £62m for the first half of the year. The company says many football punters had "dream weekends" in January and March, with 16 and then 17 teams of the 21 most backed winning. "This proved costlier than John Cleese's divorce", says Paddy.

     
  8.  
    HAYS RESULTS 07:16:

    Profits have risen at the recruitment business Hays, which operates in 33 countries. Profits rose 12% in the past year to £132m. Dividends are up 5%. "In many of our global markets, the vast majority of professional and skilled recruitment is still done in-house, with minimal outsourcing to recruitment agencies which presents substantial long-term structural growth opportunities," the company said.

     
  9.  
    LIVING WAGE 07:05: BBC Radio 4

    On the TUC Living Wage story: TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady tells Today that women come off worse because there is low value attached to the jobs women tend to do, such as care working and shop work.

     
  10.  
    LIVING WAGE 06:53: BBC Radio 4
    Care worker

    Today is discussing the Living Wage concept. In many parts of Britain, women working part-time earn less than the Living Wage, says the TUC. Three quarters of part-time women workers in Lancashire do, as do two thirds of part-time women workers in West Somerset. TUC chief Frances O'Grady explains: "The minimum wage is an absolute floor, the Living Wage is the level that means you can take your children on holiday for a week - nothing fancy." The minimum wage is £6.31.

     
  11.  
    QANTAS 06:42:

    Can Qantas solve its huge financial problems? The BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says: "The airline's annual accounts have become a horror story of decline as it tries to chart a path back to profit and sustainability". Read more.

     
  12.  
    MALAYSIA AIRLINES 06:32: BBC Radio 4

    Can an airline survive two major plane disasters in a single year? Today says that's the question for Malaysia Airlines. Those who have flown on the airline recently report near empty cabins. Can Malaysian Airlines survive? David Learmount from Flightglobal thinks so. "Malaysia will be given a chance by the government and it will be given some money. People don't like seeing airlines go bust," he told Today listeners.

     
  13.  
    BUSINESS LENDING 06:22: Radio 5 live

    Wake Up to Money looks forward to later this morning when the Bank of England will give us an update on its Funding for Lending scheme - introduced two years ago to encourage banks to lend to small businesses. It's not been a rip-roaring success: a previous report said, despite all that help, the amount of money being lent was down £2.7bn over the first three months of this year.

     
  14.  
    QANTAS 06:12:
    A Qantas Airline plane gets takes off at Sydney Airport in Sydney on August 28, 2014

    Overnight Australia's national airline Qantas reported a huge loss of A$2.8bn for the past year - its biggest ever. That was partly due to writing down the value of its planes by A$2.6bn. Qantas added weak domestic demand, poor consumer spending and rising fuel costs also contributed. Chief executive Alan Joyce tried to put some gloss on the figures: "There is no doubt today's numbers are confronting... but they represent the year that is past".

     
  15.  
    SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE 06:03:
    Saltire

    Pro-independence business people in Scotland have hit back. 200 of them have signed a letter, appearing in the Herald online, saying that the business case for independence "has been made - and it's strong and ambitious". They add: "The real threat to Scotland is the real possibility of a British exit from the European common market".

     
  16.  
    Rebecca Marston Business reporter, BBC News

    The monitor has been fitted and off we go. You can plug in to us bizlive@bbc.co.uk or @bbcbusiness. Here until 13:00.

     
  17.  
    06:00: Ian Pollock Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning, the Business Live page will have its finger on the business pulse, just for you.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Going through ice across the Northwest PassageThe Travel Show Watch

    Navigating the treacherous Northwest Passage through ice and Arctic storms

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.