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Posted on May 8th, 2013 by Jon Honeyball

GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy’s toy

So how did I come to strap a GoPro camera to a remote control helicopter? (Play video in full screen and select 1080p option for best quality.)

At the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas, I was walking down an aisle between two large stands, and felt my hair being gently rustled by a powerful draft from above. Looking up, I saw a quad helicopter sitting a few feet above my head. It was perfectly stable, and under the control of someone off in the distance. It gently, and oh so accurately moved down the hallway, turned right and came to a landing.

Now remote control helicopters are not new. And ones that talk to your iPhone or iPad aren’t new either. Indeed, I bought the AR.Drone when it first shipped. It gave me two live camera feeds back to my iPad, and the facility to record the video. The only problem was that it was rubbish.

John and I are going to visit on a sunny day, and fly the Phantom around the golf course

The device was a pain in the neck to operate, relying on subtle movements of on-screen touch controls. The video was even worse quality. And it was almost completely unstable if you tried to use it outdoors with even a moderate breeze.  I tried a few times, and then gave up. It has been sitting in the cupboard ever since.

So, I was intrigued by this serenely stable newcomer. Of course, flying indoors is a lot easier than outdoors. But after I’d trundled over to the DJI Innovations stand, I found people who really understood the issues. They make proper flight-control systems for proper grown-up devices. Comparison with the AR.Drone could not be more stark.

The model in question, the Phantom, isn’t cheap at around £500, but this gives you everything you need: GPS satellite control, barometers for measuring height, compasses for direction and so forth. It is a real techno-feast.

Better still, it has a mount underneath where I could mount the new GoPro 3 Black Edition camera. The combination was too tempting to resist.

Getting it unpacked and working wasn’t hard, but the documentation is a mess. Once I had everything sorted, it was time for its first flight. I took it outside to the garden, and promptly managed to fly it into the side of the house. Clearly someone with experience was needed. I dropped next door to the pub and found John, our local aviator expert who worked for RAF and can fly seriously big things.

He grabbed the controls and took the Phantom for a spin. Up and down, round and about. There was no stopping him. Despite the significant cross-winds and turbulence, including heat rising from the roof of the house, it was stable, easy to pilot and a joy to watch. I admit he knows what he’s doing, and I need a little more practice, but the results are worth it, as you can see from the video at the top of this blog.

The camera is not at its highest resolution, so picture quality, although already quite stunning, will be better when I switch the GoPro to the highest settings.

Total cost to play with the Phantom and GoPro 3 Black is verging on a grand, so this is a serious boy’s toy. But the results speak for themselves, and it’s more than ready for billable work.

Another pub friend, George, is taking over the management of a golf club. John and I are going to visit on a sunny day, and fly the Phantom around the golf course. It will make brilliant video, and be a great value-add for the club. Chocks away!

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Posted in: Hardware, Random


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22 Responses to “ GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy’s toy ”

  1. pinero50 Says:
    May 8th, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Enjoy it while you can, I can see private camera drones and maybe even all model aircraft being outlawed here in the next 10 years :( The american states are already doing it. The privacy thing and drone hysteria is to blame of course.

  2. nr12334 Says:
    May 8th, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Wow, I *have* to have one of those, it looks amazing! I can’t afford it but one day it will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine..

  3. Tim Says:
    May 8th, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    I think I’d rather have your garden. Nice pad.

  4. sarcen Says:
    May 8th, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    I have to agree with Tim, that garden is huge.

  5. Molliegizmo Says:
    May 9th, 2013 at 2:29 am

    Wow that’s amazing….that you got the GoPro to work.

  6. Musky Says:
    May 9th, 2013 at 9:27 am

    If one of these flies over my house it will be removed permanently!

  7. sihaz Says:
    May 9th, 2013 at 9:42 am

    forget the tech, i’ve got serious greenhouse and raised bed envy!

  8. David Says:
    May 9th, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Great one!

    Trying to build my own from scratch just for fun.

    It’s amazing the way technology has progressed that ordinary people can do this themselves!

  9. none Says:
    May 9th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    you serious ? “boys toy” ?
    people like you and reports like this are the reason why this will get regulated harshly… a phanton sized copter IS NOT A TOY. if anything you shoujld communicate to people here to be sensitive about safety when using one, or mentioning the generell rules for use. ( dont fly over ppl ever / find a suitable location to fly / dont fly close to any regulared airtrafic EVER / go for rc flying fields when flying one and so on …)

  10. Simon Tompkins Says:
    May 10th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Re “people like you”

    I couldn’t agree with ‘none’ more.

    Let’s say that that over the next fifty years there’s apocalyptic global warming, geopolitical instability leading to thermonuclear and biological warfare leading inevitably to the extermination of all life on this planet.

    And lets say that right now, in the very garden you fly over, could be a small child who could solve global warming, cure all known diseases and help us heal the world and live in peace and harmony.

    Let’s say that your ‘boys toys’ falls on this poor child’s head and due to your recklessness that the end result is the end of all life on this planet because you have killed the very child that would have saved us.

    Therefore, I echo ‘nones’s comments about your reckless abandon.

    Alternatively I may just get a life

  11. none Says:
    May 10th, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    its not even fun…
    we, who care about this tech being used for good, and not have it regulated to shreds, are very aware of the problems of “fly aways” or abusive use of this nice new tech. the problem as allways is that ppl dont bother to “think” before “acting”
    a phantom is a 1kg machine going 10m/s for lets say 10 min batt time.. beeing based on highly flameable lipo batteries ( this beeing a diffrent concern tho ) it could in those 10 min if uncontrolled make a distance of 6km or more… ask a commercial pilot what he thinks about something like this hitting his plane on a decent to an airport …or a heli guy … or just the terminal veleocity of it comes down from 4-5km height weighting 1000gr and hitting someone / something / setting something on fire.
    dji are famous for the “return to home” fly aways ( home here being china ) google it!

    the only way we will be able to keep “playing with those nice machines” on a private level is if we use them responsable..and as an publisher i guess someone could have mentioned those things..

  12. Nelviticus Says:
    May 11th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    That really is pretty damn cool.

    But doesn’t filming people capture their souls? Doubly so when from a flying object?

    You know what, I don’t care. I want one.

  13. Davos Says:
    May 13th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    It is sensationalist articles like this that will cause the use of these vehicles to become controlled. You are not flying a helicopter, this is a multirotor, or quad rotor in this case.
    In the UK we have laws to cover the use of these in a public space and allow their use to be shared with other airspace users. Once a camera is fitted, whole new laws apply as the device is then classed as a surveillance system and can not fly within 150m of a built up area, or 50 m of a person (pilot not included)
    The possible use cases make these far more than a toy, it is not a toy!
    height inspection, pipelines, search and rescue, aerial filming, etc.
    To use aerial surveillance footage commercially in the UK also requires a BNUC-S Qualified pilot, managed by the civil aviation authorities.

  14. Dawsonweb Says:
    May 13th, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Nice, but someone went a whole step further a few years ago:

  15. Zippy Says:
    May 13th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I can’t see the pub next door.

  16. wittgenfrog Says:
    May 15th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Your silly website says I’ve posted my comment before. So where is it?

  17. Musky Says:
    May 16th, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I’m off down the shop for an air rifle – maybe a shotgun!
    Seriously I don’t want anymore people being able to spy on me, theres more than enough already.

  18. henry Says:
    May 16th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    From ‘the states’-California-looks like you can only go out about a hundred feet or so from the controller?

  19. Steve Cassidy Says:
    May 16th, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    “the end of garden sunbathing”, “you’ll have someone’s eye out with that”, “I’m gonna burgle your begonias”… the glories of free speech!

    PS can I buy your AR.Drone, Jon?

  20. Rick Says:
    May 21st, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Reading the comments it is a shame there are so many muppets in this country.What has global warming Ect Ect Ect got to do with a remote control helicopter? God help this country with people like you around

  21. Dami Says:
    June 21st, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    What model helicopter were you using

  22. Dave Says:
    July 27th, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I left the UK coz of muppets trying to stop enjoyment. Now live in Philippines better and less cost than UK.


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