For those who dream of one day shooting aerial footage without the bulky cranes and cables to hold everything aloft, Japan's NHK may have just the thing: a tethered, balloon-mounted, four-axis gyro-stabilized camera rig that weighs in at about 2 kg (4.4 lb), can soar up to 300 m (984 ft) and takes its commands from the re-purposed remote control for a toy helicopter.
Once airborne, the camera can "pan, tilt, and zoom as usual," NHK's Tsuyoshi Sekiguchi explained to DigInfo. "In addition, the gimbal works to keep the direction fixed, so even if the camera shakes, it stays facing the same direction, and the image is stable. To put it simply, four gimbal axes are controlled, and they have gyros, and the direction is kept constant using the gyro values."
Although versatile and easy to set up, the balloon platform does have certain limitations. Like most lighter-than-air craft, its large surface area makes it susceptible to strong breezes, so the NHK rig is limited to operating at wind speeds of 7 m/sec (about 15 mph) or less. The balloon's top payload is about 4 kg (just under 9 lbs) so only smaller cameras can go aloft for the time being. The engineers did add a safety mechanism that brings the rig safely down should its tether get cut, so at least worries about losing everything are minimized.
As the video below shows, the rig is fairly adept at damping unwanted motion, especially at more modest elevations. "The height actually used for a bird's-eye view is about 30-50m (98-164 ft) because that's the most practical altitude, so we've designed this system to work stably at that height," Sekiguchi added.
Currently there's no word on price point or availability, but NHK claims ease of use and cost reduction were two big motivations for the design, so if all goes well, we may be seeing a lot more of this technology at games and big events in the not-too-distant future.