Auckland developed drone impresses James Cameron

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A group of former Auckland University students has won $50,000 in a competition aimed at developing world-leading drone technology for the film, media, and gaming industries in a competition endorsed by movie mogul James Cameron.

The four-member VorTech team was one of six finalists in the C-prize competition, which attracted 80 entries. The competition involved designing a prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which could overcome one of three obstacles that limit their use in the film and television industry: strong wind, rotor noise, and the need to track moving objects automatically.

VorTech’s entry involving a cutting edge propeller design inspired by work in developing wind turbines that allows it to thrust in any direction including upside down and hold its position in strong winds. It has gained the attention of American film studio DreamWorks, who had representatives at the awards ceremony tonight in Auckland, said competition organiser Callaghan Innovation.

VorTech's winning drone design, specialised for the film, television and gaming industry. Photo / CPrize
VorTech’s winning drone design, specialised for the film, television and gaming industry. Photo / CPrize

Cameron, the director of blockbusters Avatar and Titanic, said on the C-Prize website said he was starting to “really like drones as camera platforms.”

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“Any improvements that can be made to make them more stable and quieter would enable them to be used for a wider variety of world class shots.”

Three of the VorTech team – Ben McLaren, Nishaad Salvapantula, and Ryan Kurte, are employed in the tech sector in Auckland while the fourth member, Simon Corkery, is studying offshore.

Competition judge, Linda Bulk, who is chief executive of Raglan-based UAV company Aeronavics, said the VorTech prototype still outshone the other competitors, being “out of the box and innovative and if it all works out, could have a real world application to it.”

Bulk’s company last year became one of only two drone systems to be granted US Federal Aviation Authority exemption to be used for film and television work in Hollywood, sparking demand for its product.

VorTech is doing further work to produce a working prototype which it expects to complete by the first quarter of next year when a number of parties in the film industry would be interested to see how it has developed, Bulk said.

The team won $50,000 and an expenses-paid trip to exhibit its drone at the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Law Vegas, the largest international trade show for media content and technology.

(BusinessDesk receives assistance from Callaghan Innovation to cover the commercialisation of innovation).


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