New BeetleCam Adds Video, Gyros for More Death-Defying Animal Spying

Reason number 2,048 that we have robots: up close photography of wild animals

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

New BeetleCam Adds Video, Gyros for More Death-Defying Animal Spying
Photo: William Burrard-Lucas

Robots that tackle the third "D" of things that robots are good at (that would be, Dangerous, as opposed to Dull or Dirty) are best known for dealing with things like bombs. Or radiation. In other words, they're sent after things that a human would ordinarily have to deal with if we didn't have robots. There is a separate category of dangerous, though, that consists of things that humans don't have to deal with, and don't want to deal with, because they're absolutely nuts. Like, getting within a few feet of a wild leopard or a lion with a camera and saying "meat!"

William Burrard-Lucas, a U.K. wildlife photographer, started working on a lion-pestering robot called BeetleCam four or five years ago. Essentially, it's a remote-controlled DSLR on wheels, and we've posted about some of the spectacular images that he's been able to capture. There's a new generation of BeetleBot that now includes a video camera, and a forthcoming upgrade that mounts the entire setup on a gyro-stabilised camera gimbal. The results are breathtaking, although the lions don't seem particularly impressed. Admittedly, I have no idea what an impressed lion looks like, so I could be wrong. But watch anyway:

BeetleCam may have started off as a sort of DIY project, but it's commercially available now, armored lion-proof (mostly) carapace included. It's got four-wheel drive, can be controlled out to 500 meters, includes a battery that should last for a day of shooting, and can be rigged up for a remote control camera feed. The cost is $2,700 and up.

For a little more versatility, you could instead go with a cam-toting 'copter, but I'd hold off on that for a bit: Burrard-Lucas is working on an "innovative new, super-quiet" hexacopter that'll be "perfectly suited for filming wildlife" without, we assume, causing a butterfly-effect stampede. So, you'll be able to get footage like this, but even better:

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