Sea Otter: Meet the drone in the skies above Laguna Seca

Gear Sea Otter Classic

Travis Geske and Taylor Morgan, the team behind this year’s Sea Otter aerial video production.

What has a top speed of 60mph, runs on a battery the size of a brick, and can been seen in the skies above this year’s Sea Otter Classic? It’s the remote control camera-carrying drone being used to capture event and race footage.

Known as an aerial drone, the 20-pound device is outfitted with a Panasonic GH3 camera mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, which allows the camera operator to have complete independent control.

That cameraman is Taylor Morgan, a Bay Area-based videographer who’s working in tandem with partner Travis Geske, who built and flies the 6-armed device that’s worth approximately $6,000 (not including the 150 man hours Geske put in to building the craft). The camera is worth another $4,000.

The duo have been tasked with creating a special 25th anniversary video for next year’s silver edition Sea Otter Classic. The Panasonic camera shoots in full digital HD. The output footage is rock steady, says Morgan, because the gimbal operates on all three axis so even when the copter moves the footage looks like it’s been shot from a tripod.

The drone is equipped with four separate transmission systems that alleviate outside interference with Geske’s controls, which look similar to what you’d operate an RC car with.

Device flight time is about 20 minutes, a limitation of the battery that itself weighs about five pounds. Possible flight time decreases in windy conditions because the drone’s brushless motors must work harder. Like many of the bikes below it, the drone’s body is made almost exclusively from carbon fiber to keep weight down while maintaining strength.

Both Geske and Morgan utilize separate FPV (or first person view monitors). Morgan’s comes through the main camera, while Geske utilizes a smaller GoPro-like camera that’s also mounted on the drone, which provides a more limited view. The remote controls will work up to a kilometer away, but Geske says he aims to keep that distance to no more than 150 meters for safety sake.

The drone has two flight modes, GPS or attitude. GPS allows the drone to hover in one spot with no drift side to side or up and down; attitude gives complete control to the pilot, who must precisely control it. And no, knock on wood, Geske has never crashed.

Here’s a sample video of the stunning footage quality we can expect to see in the finished product.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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