Robot cameras: bird's eye view of Games

Aerial view of the 2008 Olympics closing ceremony
AFP Photo/Christophe Simon

Aerial photography is a must for coverage of the Olympics, and up to (and including) the Beijing Games in 2008, photographers got those shots – the sweeping panoramas, the bird’s eye view of athletes in action – by being hoisted in a harness up to stadium roofs.

That tradition comes to an end in London. "The Olympics Committee has warned us that, for security reasons, no photographer will be allowed on the stadium roof," said Francois-Xavier Marit, AFP's chief editor on technical issues. "So we had to come up with a system of remote-controlled photography."

Marit has already carved out a reputation for pioneering underwater robot-photography of world-class swimming events. His remote-controlled robots have given AFP spectacular images from the Olympics and World Championships for nearly a decade. He decided to leverage this experience to design a robotic system that could be deployed from on high.

For 18 months, AFP worked with Japanese manufacturer Nikon – the default camera for most of the Agency's photographers – and British robotic specialist MRMC to adapt the devices to be used in London. "In the world of photography, robots are sort of this year's novelty," said Marit.

One of the robot cameras to be deployed during the London Games
AFP Photo

At the 2012 Games, Marit and colleague Antonin Thuillier will set up a dozen robots: 10 on the roofs – including one above the Olympic Stadium – and two in the swimming complex. Among the robots deployed for aerial shots, two will have a double camera enabling wide-angle panoramic shots. With 16-to-400 mm zooms, and three axes of rotation, no angle will escape the cameras’ Cyclopes vision.

The robots will be controlled from the terraces by AFP photographers, with each control station able to manage up to a dozen cameras.

For the results, watch this space.