Hi-tech remote flying eye in the sky

21:49, Sep 16 2012
BIRDSEYE VIEW: Ryan Cadwallader (pilot), left, and Ben Forman (camera operator) with the aerial photography flying machine Sycamore.
BIRDSEYE VIEW: Ryan Cadwallader (pilot), left, and Ben Forman (camera operator) with the aerial photography flying machine Sycamore.

Aerial imaging company Sycamore is taking to the skies, commercialising the filming and photography of scenes shot from the air using a small remote-controlled aircraft.

The company was formed by an ex-fighter pilot and a film-maker who, together with a team of product development, communications, flying and accounting experts, wanted to make aerial photography and film more widely accessible to businesses and individuals.

Sycamore uses the helicopter-like aircraft fitted with a camera, flown like an extremely hi-tech remote-control plane by a licensed pilot with a commercial pilot supervising and a camera operator.

Currently Sycamore is only operating in Wellington and the Hawke's Bay, but it hopes to expand around New Zealand and overseas as regulations catch up with the capabilities of the technology.

So far it has provided aerial imaging and video for clients as diverse as Wellington International Airport, a marina and marketing for the Elevate apartment complex to be built on Taranaki St.

The technology has the potential to be used more widely in surveying and disaster relief. The New Zealand Police used similar technology recently when searching for a body on Mt Victoria.


The Civil Aviation Authority gave it a year-long proof of concept period to prove it could operate within safety guidelines, which it did.

Sycamore also worked with the Airline Pilots Association, air traffic control provider Airways New Zealand and New Zealand Police. It has gained Civil Aviation Authority pilotless aircraft authorisation.

The brains behind the business was creative film producer Ben Forman, who has made music videos, advised government on the use of media and now runs his own film production company specialising in web video content.

He said Sycamore's aerial view gave its imaging content an edge, adding a new dimension to the way film and photography was captured and reaching where manned helicopters couldn't.

“Sycamore is focused on providing high resolution aerial photography and full HD video from an amazing and new angle to allow customers to capitalise on the opportunity that internet search engines such as YouTube provide.”

Director Stephen Davies Howard is a former fighter pilot. Unmanned aircraft appealed to him for the ability to do jobs that were too “daft, dirty or dangerous” for a manned aircraft.

“Our approach was validated by being granted authorisation to fly at Wellington International Airport during normal passenger operations on their busiest day ever during the Rugby World Cup,” Davies Howard said.

The technology Sycamore uses is all local. The aircraft itself is made by Raglan company Droidworx with the camera equipment held in place on the aircraft using stabilising camera gimbals from Ngauranga company Photohigher.

Sycamore has potential applications in a variety of uses, including to capture imagery for films and to survey sites from above.

It could monitor and track hard to reach locations for industrial applications in managing pipelines and powerlines, property, land and buildings and wind turbines.