PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — A robot arm holding a camera zips through the air, rapidly zooming in on its target.
It then extends upward, giving a bird’s eye view, before suddenly plunging to the ground in a pre-programmed sequence as the lens remains focused on the subject of the shot.
All this takes a matter of seconds, and the result is the type of shot that a human camera crew could only dream of.
The cutting edge technology is making a splash in the film industry, and it’s being optimized at SISU Cinema Robotics’ headquarters in Pflugerville.
SISU’s robot arms have been used by an HBO Max film crew, they have helped shoot Nike commercials, and they’re even being used in the development of an upcoming movie – but the beauty in them is how easy they are to operate, according to CEO Russell Aldridge.
“What we’re really trying to do is create a robot that anybody can use,” Aldridge said.
That’s even the case with the SISU C31, the company’s largest and most advanced robot, which stands almost 14-feet tall and has a 20-foot wingspan.
You might think that only robotics experts could use such a device – but Aldridge said SISU can teach somebody how to operate it in less than an hour.
“Cinematographers want to create great content, and robots have been a way to get shots they’ve never been able to get before,” he said.
“The problem is that robots are complicated, they’re intimidating, they’re expensive.”
Complexity is an issue that SISU has been working to address. Aldridge explained that when they first brought in a robot arm, the team was amazed by how difficult it was to use.
They have since developed an innovative control scheme – the user holds a tablet in one hand and a joystick controller in the other, enabling them to easily program the robot’s movements and use hand-guided motion control to precisely move the arm.
With the robot following an exact, pre-programmed path, film crews can alter what is in the shot – creating a layered visual that pops off the screen.
The simple but innovative controls set SISU apart from other robotics companies, Aldridge said.
“I think what’s really exciting about this is that the barrier to entry for technology just keeps coming down,” Aldridge said. “And so we’re able to see really cool technology in the hands of everybody.”
Ease of use makes an enormous impact on film sets, he added. Shoots that would otherwise take a few days due to the complexity of robotics can be finished in an afternoon with a SISU robot.
While filming the flower arranging series Full Bloom, HBO Max got 86 shots in a day – normally, they would be lucky to get as many as ten, Aldridge said.
The robot arms come in four sizes, and they are not cheap. The SISU C31 will set you back roughly $160,000.
But Aldridge added that more features will be added and prices will drop as the technology continues to progress.