A bird’s eye view with a difference has aerial photography specialists all of a flutter. Working out of his Germiston-based home workshop, Xtreme Multicopters’ Greg Raymond designs and custom-manufactures his own brand of exquisitely engineered multicopters, each one capable of taking your camera for a ride in the sky.
Best of all, Raymond challenges the conventional wisdom that using traditional platforms – getting an aerial perspective, and then capturing it digitally for your specific needs – invariably involves some pretty complicated hardware, not to mention a scary outlay of cash.
Raymond’s multicopters are relatively easy to fly, can carry a quality stills or video camera, and don’t cost the earth. In short, they are ideal options for moviemaking, farmers interested in counting game, or the justifiably paranoid who feel compelled to conduct regular perimeter surveillance checks. In fact, the potential uses for these impressive flyers are almost limitless.
The Hex-Copter featured here is a perfect example. Raymond had finished building it the night before my visit. No better time, he said, for a photo shoot while he took it for its first test flight.
Featuring a Y-frame and six motors with counter-rotating props, the Hex-Copter handles windy conditions with aplomb. The 120-degree angle between each arm provides a wide, unobstructed field of view for the camera.
Thanks to its GPS module and intelligent controller unit, when you first throttle up, it registers your location as its home position. Once flying, if you (for example), drop the radio or there’s a malfunction, it will rise to a height of 20 metres and go into an automatic hover for 15 seconds. It will then turn back and fly “home”, where it will hover again for a short while before landing automatically.
“This gives you an opportunity to sort out what’s going on before it lands; it’s very clever stuff,” Raymond says.
Setting up shop
Raymond’s love of photography began when he took up scuba diving while working for a signage company. Inspired by the colourful aquatic world, and being a PM kind of guy, he decided to make his own underwater housing for his video camera. It wasn’t long before one of his buddies wanted one, and he obliged. From these humble beginnings his business, AquaCam, was born – and it’s been going strong for the last 20 years. Says Raymond, “From building the housings for so many years, I’ve ended with a very high-tech workshop.
Every bit of machinery is industrial-grade – from the large spark eroder (electric discharge machine) he uses to etch out his tool-steel moulds, the CNC lathe, milling and router machines, to the enormous programmable injection moulder. To accommodate it all, his workshop covers an area of 180 m².
But that’s not all. All the walls are soundproofed, allowing him to run his machinery throughout the night without bugging his neighbours. The concrete floor’s reinforced to handle all the weight, as is the ceiling, so he can lift his heavy moulds into position (the largest weighing about 400 kg).
Says Raymond: “Usually when you make a mould, you have to make thousands of components to justify your costs. I’m in a lucky position; I can make one-os because my costs are more sweat and tears than money.”
Sky’s the limit
When multicopters first hit the scene, Raymond was quick to realise their potential. “What I really like about them is their mechanical simplicity. Their motors are the only moving parts. There’s virtually nothing that can really go wrong.” However, as much as he liked them, he had no interest in manufacturing toys: his designs had to be practical, working machines.
Other than the motors, GPS unit and controller, which he imports, every component is designed and manufactured in-house. That includes the gimballed camera mount that keeps the lens level and orientated towards the ground, regardless of the flying angle. He even devised his own vacuum-infusion machine to produce the vast quantities of carbon fibre sheeting he requires.
The majority of his clients are working photographers. His flyers are being used by mines for photogrammetry (using photographs to calculate the volumes of mining pits). They’re also used for patrolling perimeter walls. One client, a farmer, has even kitted one out with a dart gun so he can conveniently dart his animals.
On the lookout for new opportunities, Raymond is busy designing a variant to take on rhino poachers. Fitted with an infrared camera to spot clandestine movement at night, it will be a fully autonomous flyer. “To operate it, all you’ll need do is place it on the ground and push a button on your laptop,” he says.
Each one of Raymond’s multicopters is custom-made, and prices range from about R27000 to R60000 (including radio), depending on the level of sophistication required. He can be contacted on 011-828 2995, or you can visit his Web site at www.xtrememulticopters.co.za