Austin company gives high-tech bird’s eye view of F1 racetrack

by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

AUSTIN — It’s a weekend marked by the roar of engines, but even before the first multimillion dollar car screams off the starting line at Austin’s first Formula 1 race, another high-tech engine is cranking up and leaving the track behind.

The Spreading Wings S800 Hexacopter built by Austin companyDJI and deployed by Avean Media was tapped by Circuit of the Americas to provide a bird’s eye view of the twists and turns of Austin’s new racetrack. The video shows the grand scale and sweeping contours of the facility with almost ultra-realistic clarity.

“It’s very exciting being out there,” said DJI North America CEO Colin Guinn. “You could feel the energy of this amazing event that’s coming soon.”

On Friday, KVUE met with Guinn at his office full of custom-built flying cameras. Many are designed to reach altitudes of thousands of feet, brave buffetting winds and follow satellite directions in order to get high definition video from hard-to-reach angles. Guinn based the designs around miniature helicopters, and engineered multiple generations of mounting gimbals to smooth out the often rough ride of the machines.

The DJI hexacopter is purposely built for professional applications, and its $6,500 price tag is far cheaper than that of its government cousin, the UAV.  The technology the two share in common is becoming increasingly in demand, and not just for the movies.

“These aerials have been on the big screen and on network television, but the technology is pretty interesting,” said Guinn. “It’s a great tool for first responders, for any kind of power line inspection, pipeline inspection, aerial cinematography.”

For those who don’t run a major movie studio, DJI gave KVUE a first look at a new flyer for regular folks. The consumer model Phantom is due out in just a couple of weeks, with many of the same features as its big brother.

“It will carry a GoPro camera. It will have GPS satellite-based navigation system, so it will be talking to satellites in space to maintain its position,” said Guinn. “If it loses a link with the transmitter, it will literally fly home and land itself. And this is going to be a product that’s significantly less than a thousand dollars.”

Even with the incredible video courtesy of the hexacopter, Guinn like many in Austin, is eager for the ground level view as well, and his seats don’t sound bad.

“Absolutely, I’m there,” Guinn told KVUE. “Turn 15.”

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