Local businessman’s ‘helicam’ gives new angle on photography

2010-07-28 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG businessman is making use of cutting-edge technology for his latest business venture.

Andrew Martens has spent the past year- and-a-half designing and building a remote-controlled helicopter that carries a camera and takes aerial photographs. The end product is RC Helicam, a business that Martens runs with his wife Virginie.

“It works well because my wife has a degree in marketing, so she handles that side of things and I do the design,” said Martens.

Martens has obtained an advanced level proficiency rating in piloting a remote-controlled helicopter so that he can take his helicam, which is made mostly of carbon fibre and aluminium, into the air.

The machine is worth about R40 000 and Martens says that it takes a highly skilled person to pilot it.

“The thing is that no insurance company would ever cover something like this, so if it crashes everything is lost,” he said.

“Safety is the main concern, and we will never fly the chopper over a group of people,” he added.

Martens says feedback about the work that the helicam can do has been extremely positive, with potential clients from hotels, schools and real estate agencies.

He says the helicam’s success is largely due to the unique camera angles of the photographs it takes.

“It flies at a low altitude that provides an angle that cannot be obtained when shooting from a real helicopter,” Martens explained.

“Shots from a helicopter often appear flat because they are taken from too high up, whereas the helicam is low enough to give depth and shape to the photographs.”

Martens has already used the helicam on locations such as golf courses and schools and is currently working at the UCI BMX World Championships, where he will be going one step further and shooting video footage from the helicam.

“We have a lot of work to do before the event begins because you need to be as still as possible to do video work, but we’ll be ready,” he said.

While the helicam is in the air, a video output feed allows Martens to see exactly what the camera is seeing via a pair of virtual goggles that he wears while piloting it.

This, he says, is what makes RC Helicam unique.

“It means that we don’t need a second ground cameraman. I see what the camera does and can manoeuvre the chopper accordingly.”

What Martens gets really excited is the new wave of technology that he has tapped into that allows him to create virtual tours of any given location.

“We take a series of bird’s-eye shots of a location and whoever views the end product is able to zoom in and out of any place within that location with great clarity.

“It’s really groundbreaking and you have to see it for yourself to understand it.”

For further information on Martens’ work on virtual tours, visit www.rchelicam.co.za.

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