Flying-Cam introduces LIDAR to its UAS platform

By Patrick C. Miller | May 14, 2015

Flying-Cam—an Academy Award-winning company that pioneered unmanned aerial cinematography—has added 3D laser scanning technology to its line of aerial platforms. 

Emmanuel Prévinaire, Flying-Cam’s founder, president, senior pilot and system designer, was at Unmanned Systems 2015 in Atlanta last week to unveil the company’s SARAH (Special Aerial Response Automatic Helicopter) 3.0 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with the Riegl VUX-1UAV LIDAR sensor for 3D laser mapping.

Austrian-based Riegl’s laser scanner, which has been miniaturized as a payload for small UAS, pulses at 500 kilohertz per second, providing accuracy of less than 1 centimeter (.39 inch). Paired with the programmable SARAH 3.0’s autopilot and user interface, Prévinaire said the system has unique capabilities.

“This is a new era because before now, scanners had known limitations when they were used in big aircraft or on a ground vehicle or simply on a tripod,” he said. “Suddenly, the ability to fly from zero to 400 feet with a 3D scanner of this quality is a complete game changer.”

According to Prévinaire, whether creating a 3D map of a landscape, a cityscape or a monument, remote sensing LIDAR technology provides great accuracy for a multitude of applications, such as measuring snow depth, predicting landslides and monitoring power lines and pipelines.

What Flying-Cam learned from working with Hollywood producers on movie sets can also be applied to the world of remote sensing technology.

“We use part of the graphic user interface that we use for the movie industry because it also requires high precision in the flight path, mostly because we are close to very famous actors,” Prévinaire explained. “This leads us to a flight specification that’s very demanding. We applied that expertise to the 3D scanner we have now.”

Prévinaire founded Flying-Cam 26 years ago, using small radio-controlled helicopters that mounted cameras. Now in its third generation, he said the totally electric SARAH helicopter UAV has recently been used to film James Bond and Transformers movies.

“It’s really a proven platform,” said Prévinaire. “To carry a 200,000 Euro scanner, you’d better have a good platform.”

The SARAH 3.0 platform with the Riegl LIDAR sensor can either be purchased or rented from Flying-Cam for use in project design or inspecting infrastructure.

“You can show not only what is there, but also what you’d like to be there with the precision that the laser gives you,” Prévinaire said. “We can provide the system to a company that wants to do a survey on a power line or to monitor a railroad.”

With offices in Belgium, Hong Kong and Santa Monica, California, Flying-Cam can tailor the platform to user specifications and supply training for the interface and sensor.

“The future is multi-sensor capability with one platform,” Prévinaire noted. “Soon we will have 18 megapixel resolution together with the laser scanner of 500 kilohertz pulse per second. You end up with a 3D environment that is already colorized.”

Flying-Cam has received two Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The first was in 1995 for technical achievement for invention of the Flying-Cam technology and the second in 2014, the scientific and engineering award for the Flying-Cam 3.0 SARAH. The company’s other credits also include the Harry Potter and Mission Impossible movies.


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