At the Future of Flight Museum on October 27-28, 2010, LaserMotive and Ascending Technologies GmBH set a world record of 12 hours, 27 minutes, for the non-stop flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle. Using the AscTec Pelican, which LaserMotive modified to include an array of photocells, the LaserMotive team beamed a powerful beam of near-infrared light at the chopper. The beam was 10 times more powerful than sunlight, and was focused to the size of the helicopter, using LaserMotive's proprietary tracking technology to follow the AscTec Pelican as it hovered overhead.
This video for LaserMotive LLC was fun to produce, partly because of the technical challenges inherent in the project.
LaserMotive and Ascending Technologies joined forces to keep AscTec's battery-operated quadrocopter aloft for 12-1/2 hours using laser power beamed by LaserMotive. It sounds easy, but a number of significant technological breakthroughs had to come together to make this work. The video documents these.
From a video perspective, the challenge was to create a single uninterrupted piece of video, hopefully from more than one camera, so that we could document that the feat had actually been accomplished: continual laser power, except for times when the chopper was intentionally removed from the beam in order to demonstrate automatic reacquisition and battery-operation away from the laser power source. To minimize the chance of failure on this first long-flight attempt, it was decided to keep the manual forays away from the power beam to a minimum.
Another video challenge was to create the sense of the passage of time through the use of lighting and various events in the background of the shot. I decided to change the lighting every 2 hours or so, to have tables set up and taken down for dinner and breakfast, and to conduct large-size chess games in order to demonstrate how much time was passing. We planned from the beginning to speed up the footage to about 30,000 percent, in order to make the length a manageable 2 to 4 minutes. By the way, in Final Cut Pro you can only have a 12 hour timeline... therefore, we had to do the speedup and assembly from two segments, and first increase the speed by 10,000 percent, render that out into a new video clip, and then speed the resulting video up by a factor of 3 or 4 again.
The next video production challenge required the ability to do a closeup monitoring of the camera image, which was mounted high up in the rafters at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. I output the video as HDMI, converted it to Cat 5 DVI, and then plugged it into a large monitor with DVI inputs. The distance was over 120 feet from the camera to the monitor.... you can see it in the lower part of the screen.
Finally, the main lighting challenge was to create a band of light that the quadrocopter could fly in, without requiring expensive video lights. I was able to use the theatrical lights that are mounted in the ceiling at the FoF facility, and focus them on the AscTec Pelican's flight path. This took almost two full shifts of pre-lighting, because of the challenge of working with a very slow and rickety old Genie lift. Wow! Thanks to Peter Bro, facilities manager at FoF, for helping me get over my acrophobia. Two full nights of pre-lighting and planning led to a smooth technical process with only one minor glitch.
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