Auckland-developed drone wins Callaghan’s $50,000 film-technology challenge

The award-winning team, VorTech, has won $50,000 and an expenses-paid trip to exhibit at the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas, the largest international trade show for media content and technology.

The competition, which was launched in April, asked developers to create a prototype Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which could overcome one of three obstacles standing in the way of their wide adoption in TV and film: high winds, rotor noise, and the ability to track moving objects automatically.

The VorTech team designed an UAV which can maintain stability in high winds and extend the range of conditions in which UAVs can be used for filming.

Using academic research into the future of wind turbines, the group designed a propeller that, when attached to a single electric motor and two servos, can provide a 360° thrust vector, excellent resistance to external forces (such as high winds) and is aerodynamically efficient, providing longer flight times and higher maximum loads.

The VorTech team comprises ex-Auckland University students Ben MacLaren, Simon Corkery, Nishaad Salvapantula and Ryan Kurte. Three of the team are employed in tech-sector enterprises in Auckland, while Corkery is doing a PhD at Cambridge.

The team experienced a set-back in testing when their prototype went off course and got stuck in the netting surrounding the test area, but they were able to laugh it off and carry on to impress the judges.

The challenge garnered the praise of Hollywood heavy-hitter and director of Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron, who says the project could change the way aerial shots look and are filmed.  

“This is what excites me about the C-prize; teams can develop technology to reduce noise, increase stability and track filming subjects. I look forward to seeing what people come up with.”   

“I am starting to really like drones as camera platforms,” says Cameron. “Any improvements that can be made to make them more stable and quieter would enable them to be used for a wider variety of world class shots.”