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TEDSalon Berlin 2014

Sergei Lupashin: A flying camera ... on a leash

July 24, 2014

Let's admit it: aerial photo drones and UAVs are a little creepy, and they come with big regulatory and safety problems. But aerial photos can be a powerful way of telling the truth about the world: the size of a protest, the spread of an oil spill, the wildlife hidden in a delta. Sergei Lupashin demos Fotokite, a nifty new way to see the world from on high, safely and under control.

Sergei Lupashin - Aerial robotics researcher
Sergei Lupashin imagines new uses for flying robots. He's a 2014 TED Fellow. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I came here to show you
00:12
the Fotokite.
00:14
It's a tethered, flying camera.
00:16
But before I do that, I want to tell you a bit about
00:18
where it came from, what motivated it.
00:20
So I was born in Russia,
00:22
and three years ago, in 2011,
00:24
there were the Russian federal elections.
00:27
There were massive irregularities reported,
00:29
and people came out to protest,
00:32
which was very unlikely for Russia.
00:33
And no one really knew
00:37
how significant these protests were,
00:38
because, for whatever reason,
00:41
the world media largely ignored it.
00:42
Now, there was a group of photographers
00:44
who kind of flew flying cameras as a hobby —
00:46
usually photographing things like the Sphinx,
00:49
the Pyramids — who happened to be
00:52
right around the corner, and they flew a camera
00:55
and they took some snapshots,
00:58
some panoramas of this demonstration.
00:59
Just completely independent entity,
01:02
completely random occurrence,
01:04
and the image, when I saw it, it really struck me.
01:06
Here's one of the panoramas.
01:10
So in a single image,
01:11
you can really see the scale of this event —
01:13
just the number of people,
01:16
the colors, the banners.
01:20
You just can't consider this insignificant.
01:22
All in a single image, which was really cool to me.
01:26
And I think, in the future,
01:29
journalism and many other professions,
01:31
there are flying cameras already
quite commonly out there,
01:34
but I think, you wait a few months, a few years,
01:36
and for many professions, it's really going to be
01:40
a requirement.
01:42
And it make sense. It's
such a unique perspective.
01:43
Nothing really communicates
this scale, for example,
01:46
in context, in a way that this does.
01:49
But there are a few hurdles,
and they are quite basic
01:52
and quite fundamental.
01:55
One is piloting.
01:57
So for this image, they flew a camera,
01:58
a five kilogram device with an SLR under it.
02:02
It's quite heavy, lots of
spinning, sharp things.
02:07
It's a bit uncomfortable to fly,
02:11
probably also for the operator.
02:14
In fact, you can see that on the
back of the pilot's shirt, it says,
02:15
"No questions until landing"
02:19
in Russian and in English,
02:21
because people are curious, and they'll go tap you,
02:23
and then you lose your focus and things happen.
02:25
And these guys are great. They're professionals;
02:27
they're really careful in what they do.
02:30
So in the protests, maybe you noticed,
02:33
they flew over the river so it was quite safe.
02:35
But this doesn't necessarily apply to
02:38
all people and all conditions,
02:41
so we really have to make piloting easier.
02:43
The other problem is regulations,
02:45
or rather, the lack of good regulation.
02:47
For many good reasons, it's just difficult
02:51
to come up with common sense laws
02:52
to regulate flying cameras.
02:55
So we already have cameras.
02:57
Everyone here, I'm sure, has a
smartphone with a camera, right?
02:59
There are more and more of them.
03:02
You hear about people with
Google Glass being attacked.
03:03
You hear about, actually, a drone pilot,
03:05
a hobbyist, was attacked two weeks ago
03:08
because he was flying near a beach.
03:10
Here's some personal input I didn't expect.
03:12
Just yesterday, I was attacked by a guy
03:14
who claimed that I was filming him.
03:17
I was checking my email right here —
03:20
easy way to get input for your talk.
03:22
But I think there are better solutions.
03:26
I think we have to defuse the situation.
03:28
We have to come up with responsible solutions
03:30
that address the privacy issues
03:33
and the safety, accountability issues
03:35
but still give us that perspective.
03:37
And this is one potential solution.
03:41
So this is the Fotokite.
03:44
Well, let me see, it's a quadrocopter,
03:47
but what's kind of special
about it is there's a leash.
03:49
It's literally a dog leash. It's very convenient.
03:54
And the neat thing about it is,
03:57
to fly it, there's no joysticks, nothing like this.
03:59
You just turn it on
04:01
and you point in the direction that you want to fly.
04:04
You give it a little twist.
04:06
That's kind of the way you communicate.
04:08
And there it goes.
04:13
(Applause)
04:16
So the interaction is super simple.
04:25
It's like a personal flying pet.
04:27
It just always maintains a certain angle to you,
04:29
and if I move around with it,
04:31
it'll actually follow me naturally.
04:33
And of course, we can build on top of this.
04:36
So this leash has some additional electronics.
04:38
You can turn it on.
04:41
And now, it's like telling your dog to fly lower,
04:43
if you have such a dog. So, I can press a button
04:48
and manipulate it rather easily.
04:50
So I just shifted its position.
04:53
And it's really safe.
04:56
I don't know about you guys in the front row —
04:57
(Laughter) — but at least in principle,
05:00
you have to agree that you feel safer
05:02
because there is a physical connection.
05:04
Live demos are hard, right?
05:07
Things go wrong all the time.
05:08
But no matter what,
05:10
this thing will actually prevent this thing
05:11
from going into you.
05:13
What's more, it tells you immediately that
05:15
I am the one responsible for this device.
05:17
You don't have to look for someone controlling it.
05:19
Now, I can tell you that it's easy a lot,
05:21
but I think a really good way to prove that
05:24
is to grab a second one
05:27
and launch it.
05:30
And if I can do this on stage live,
05:34
then I can show each and every one of you
05:37
in five minutes how to
operate one of these devices.
05:40
So now we have two eyes in the sky. (Applause)
05:52
And now the trick is getting them back.
05:54
(Laughter)
05:59
So my question now to you is,
06:04
well, it's a nice solution,
06:06
it's very accessible, it's safe.
06:08
What would you use it for?
06:10
What would you use such a camera for in your life?
06:11
Thank you.
06:15
(Applause)
06:17

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Sergei Lupashin - Aerial robotics researcher
Sergei Lupashin imagines new uses for flying robots. He's a 2014 TED Fellow.

Why you should listen

When Sergei Lupashin saw how an aerial photograph of massive protests around the 2011 Russian federal elections changed the media silence around the subject, the aerial robotics engineer realized the truth-telling value of the bird’s-eye view. Yet aerial photographs, even those taken by unmanned aerial vehicles, are tricky to produce: it’s difficult to pilot a UAV safely, and government regulations restrict their use.

Lupashin gets around both obstacles with his new invention, the Fotokite – a lightweight, camera-equipped quadricopter controlled with a tether (for the purposes of this demo, a dog leash). He turns one on, points it in a direction, and it flies out, hovering at a consistent angle. Then he launches a second, and a third. While the Fotokite would have a huge impact on journalism, it should also prove useful for archeologists, architects, wildlife biologists, emergency responders and more. The possibilities are endless. If you had one, Lupashin asks, what would you do with it?

The original video is available on TED.com
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