There was still one last problem to solve: live transmission. Broadcasting live would require sending a wireless signal from the drone to Uncle Toad’s production compound, and from there to the world. This was a tricky proposition on a site of such scale, and with so many obstacles (trees, jumps, boulders) for the signal to get around.
Early iterations of the setup used an RF-enabled broadcast camera which, as Griffin explains, didn’t work well enough. “It just didn’t have the depth of field and dynamic range required to deal with the contrast between foreshadowed areas like trees and snow, which is obviously brilliantly bright and reflective.”
The GoPros the team was using could better capture the dynamic range required, so they worked with GoPro to “hack” a Hero 10 camera to make it output live video—something GoPros aren’t designed to do. Next, they brought in RF Wireless, live sports broadcast specialists who used their unique experience to iron out the signal transmission problem.
To operate the system, the pilot and camera person stand side by side. The pilot flies the drone, navigating the course, avoiding obstacles such as trees, and turning the camera to ensure the rider stays in the frame. The camera operator’s job is to pitch the camera up and down in response to the snowboarder’s specific movements.
Given the complexity of this relationship, and the need for both team members to be able to anticipate the riders’ movements as they navigate the course, Gab hand-picked skilled FPV pilots with a strong understanding of snowboarding. No wonder the teams were as exhausted as the riders by the end of each contest.
“Piloting is very, very draining, because you have to concentrate so hard,” Kocher says. “I always say it takes an athletic performance to film the athletes. We talk to each other throughout the whole thing, working out the shot and the angles. And, of course, we’re hooting and hollering when the athlete lands something cool.”
At the Jackson Hole and British Columbia legs of the 2022 tour, Rice and Griffin’s vision was realized.