It’s one thing to pilot a drone along a picturesque coastline, capturing breathtaking footage you could never get on the ground. But it takes an entirely different level of skill to pilot a drone through intricate dinosaur skeletons inside a museum. So how do you squeeze a flying camera through such narrow obstacles? In addition to steady hands on the controls, you need some heavily customized hardware.
There’s no shortage of tiny drones on the market at this point, but it’s hard to find one that’s maneuverable, responsive, and one that includes a high-quality camera on board. So Robert McIntosh designed and built his own which uses four closely packed propellers that each barely measure a few inches in size. In addition to a low-quality streaming camera that allows the craft to be piloted from a first-person perspective using a pair of video goggles, the drone also carries a GoPro 6 for capturing 4K footage of every flight.
Dealing with weight is the biggest challenge for a tiny drone like this. The lighter you can make it, the easier it is to fly. So to incorporate a 4K camera, the GoPro 6 was stripped of its protective housing, right down to its basic electronics and power components. For comparison; a stock GoPro 6 weighs in at 115 grams, but the entire micro drone McIntosh built, including the barebones GoPro, weighs just a little more at 120.3 grams. The craft also ends up with a much smaller footprint, which is important when you’re trying to fly it right through the dinosaur skulls in the Natural History Museum of Utah’s collection.
The hardware is only half of the equation when it comes to capturing a video as impressive as this. Simple tricks like reversing the footage of the flight helps make it even more compelling as the viewer can’t see where the drone is headed, but even the best drone pilots in the world can’t keep their crafts perfectly steady. To achieve the smooth results seen in this museum fly through, a stabilization software called ReelSteady GO was used during post-production.
Stabilizing footage usually requires a piece of software to first analyze and track the movements of a clip; detecting jitters, bumps, and vibrations which are then canceled-out by applying the same movements in reverse. The results can be good, but ReelSteady GO streamlines the process by instead relying on the motion data that a GoPro camera’s gyroscope captures during each recording. It not only provides more accurate data about how the camera is getting bumped around, it also eliminates the time-consuming process of having to first analyze unsteady footage. For comparison, here’s the raw footage of that museum flight, minus any stabilization:
It should hopefully go without saying, but the next time you visit a dinosaur museum you probably shouldn’t whip out your drone and buzz the exhibits. McIntosh had permission to fly here and based on his previous videos, he’s a much better drone pilot than you’ll ever be.
Update, June 5, 4:26 p.m. EST/EDT: At the request of the museum, the stabilized, final version of the video has been taken down.