Eye in the sky

LACONIA — Hundreds of people who turned up for last month's 26.4.26 marathon relay in Gilford got to see some new technology in action as a small drone-like object flew over the crowd, hovering from time to time as it captured images of the event which were later aired on Lakes Region Public Access TV and WMUR in Manchester.
The helicopter-like device, known as a hexacopter by virtue of its six rotors, is about 30 inches across and 25 inches tall and is powered by lithium polymer batteries which give it 10 to 15 minutes of air time according to Shane Selling, who bought it last month and assembled it just in time to use it at the relay.
''It was a trial run for us. Denise Beauchaine of LRPA told me she'd like to get some aerial footage of the event and I was happy to do it,'' says Selling, who run SOS Tech, which provides computer and IT services, and who is a technical consultant for LRPA, where he manages the information servers.
Selling says that the DJI S800 hexacopter is fitted with a device called a gimbal, a gyro-stabilized mount, which keeps the high definition SLR camera it carries perfectly balanced so that there is no wobbling for the video feeds it sends back to the monitoring device on the ground.
''It holds the camera perfectly still,'' says Selling, who says that the Sony Aplha NEX-5R camera carried by the hexacopter is capable of both live video as well as still photography.
''It's purely a hobby for me. I've been interested for about two years in getting one,'' says Selling, who says the device, which he bought second hand, cost him $7,000.
He sees many applications for it, from aerial video and photography for commercial use such as car and real estate ads, to live event coverage for television stations in situations where renting a helicopter is prohibitively expensive.
Beauchaine is very enthusiastic about the added capabilities that it gives to LRPA in its coverage of local events.
''It gives our viewers new perspectives on what's happening and adds some excitement to our coverage,'' she says.
Selling says that the hexacopter is equipped with GPS technology which allows it to hover over a designated spot while rotating the camera so that it can monitor everything taking place beneath it while a pitch sensor keeps it on a level plane.
And there is a fail safe system which kicks in if the connection with the controller is lost. The machine will return to the launch site and on the return it will maintain the same height and pathway it followed so that it will not crash into a building or other obstacle.
He said that the hexacopter features modular construction which makes it easy to assemble and take apart and also means that parts can be replaced without having to replace an entire unit.
Selling demonstrated the hexacopter recently at Opechee Park with help from his father, Tom Selling, a licensed professional engineer who has his own business, T.R. Selling Engineering, with Shane handling the flight controls while his father manned the monitoring device which received the video feed.
The hexacopter took off and went up to about 150 feet where it took still pictures of those on the ground and ten then was flown over the Laconia Little League's Colby Field before being brought back to its launch site after a demonstration of its hovering capacity near the outfield fence at the field.
Selling says that he's looking to replace the current rigid landing gear with a retractable one so that the landing gear, which is visible in some current aerial photographs and videos, will be out of sight.
He says that police departments around the country are already using hexacopters in a variety of ways, from monitoring traffic to active crime scenes, and that news agencies are also using them.
They vehicles are classified as unmanned drones and have raised privacy concerns with as many as 30 states looking at legislation which would regulate their operation.


Shane Selling guides his radio controlled hexacopter at Opechee Park in Laconia, watching as it hovers near Colby Field. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Shane Selling holds his hexacopter and his father. Tom, holds the monitoring device for the live video feed provided by the hexacopter's camera. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Images taken from the camera on Shane Selling's hexacopter as it flew over Opechee Park. (Courtesy photo)