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Servo drives key for high speed robotic camera dolly

Servo drives key for high speed robotic camera dolly

When writer/director Howard McCain outlined an idea he had for an extreme action shot, the studio told him it could only be done using computer generated imagery (CGI), and would cost over $1m, he was convinced there had to be a better way. Together with VFX supervisor David Kuklish, he explored conventional dolly systems, crane systems, helicopter shots and drones, but couldn’t find anything that would get the job done.

To address the problem, and so provide a solution to the ongoing creative-meets-financial-and-technical-limitations dilemma in the entertainment industry, McCain and Kuklish founded Mega Trax, and the two entertainment mavens created the world’s first semi-autonomous, high-speed, robotic dolly system. The company’s flagship product, the MX 500, is revolutionising the filmmaking industry by creating high-speed, live-action shots for movies, television, commercials, sports and live event venues that were previously only possible with CGI.

With credits spanning large-scale films (Outlander), franchise films (Underworld), televisions shows (Conan) and theme park attractions (Universal Studios), McCain and Kuklish know a thing or two about extreme live action, and what the MX 500 would need to be capable of. At the heart of the MX 500, they employed Elmo advanced, high-voltage Gold Drum servo drives, tuned with Elmo’s Application Studio II (EASII) motion design software. McCain says: “Elmo has a great reputation for precision motion control, which gave us a high level of confidence in the company. Then, we realised that Elmo’s servo drives were the only ones that could handle the power and motion control requirements that we needed to deliver extreme action shots with our robotic dolly system. Elmo helped us create a system that will give audiences the jaw-dropping ‘wow factor’ of real, live-action footage.” Each of Elmo’s four high-voltage, lightweight, extreme power density Gold Drum HV servo drives can handle up to 100A/800V and are capable of delivering more than 65kW of continuous output power.

The compact Gold Drum HV’s extreme high voltage is vital to the robotic dolly achieving high speeds and fast acceleration. The EASII software tool’s flexible programming environment makes it easy to quickly create and implement motion, and intuitively program and fully manage Elmo’s servo drives and motion controllers. Elmo’s complete motion control solution for the MX500 reduced overall power consumption and extended battery life, and enabled the robotic dolly system to consistently and efficiently reach extreme performance metrics.

The Mega Trax MX 500 semi-autonomous robotic dolly system can safely go from 0 to 62mph in 3-3.5 seconds, and reach speeds of over 90mph. It can decelerate, switch directions and again accelerate without hesitation, thanks to perfect synchronisation among four motors, enabling the MX 500 to capture ultra-smooth camera shots at top speeds.

John McLaughlin, president for North America at Elmo Motion Control, says: “Mega Trax’s requisites for high power for acceleration and extreme power density outlined a unique and complex configuration that could only be achieved with a powerful, advanced motion control solution. Through deep motion control expertise and extensive experience, Elmo helped Mega Trax meet and exceed these expectations.”

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