The Burrard-Lucas brothers with the new BeetleCam robots
A BeetleCam closing in on a lioness
In 2009, two young British wildlife photographers embarked on a remarkable project to develop a wheeled robot that can carry a professional camera and take close-up, wide-angle photographs of African animals. Their first attempt on during 2009 resulted in amazing photographs of elephants and buffalo but the robot was destroyed early on by a lion. After extensive efforts the British team returned to Africa last summer with new and improved versions of the original robots to try and photograph the lions of the Masai Mara – did they succeed and what happened to the robot camera? keep on reading…
Photographers and brothers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas had a dream, to be the first to get close enough to the African lions in the wild to take high quality wide-angle photographs of them. In 2009 they have built the first BeetleCam – a remote controlled buggy with a DSLR camera mounted on top and set out to Tanzania. Although the BeetleCam was able to capture some amazing photographs of elephants and buffalo the team brothers were not careful enough and a lion destroyed their camera. They did however return to the U.K. and the images they did bring back got published quickly worldwide.
The Burrard-Lucas brothers are not the only ones using robots to get "close and personal" with wildlife animals. In 2011 wildlife filmmaker John Downer used robotic "ice cameras" to track the lives of polar bears as they lead their cubs across the Arctic Norway. Downer and the BBC developed a range of iceberg-like robotic cameras that can swim in water of move quickly on ice and get close to polar bears in order to take images and videos of them in their natural environment. However, just like the Burrard-Lucas brothers, he quickly discovered that wild animals are highly unpredictable and can be curios to the point of destroying the iceberg (camera) impostors, which they did – ruining almost $200,000 worth of equipment. Despite those setbacks, Downer and the BBC were able to complete a unique documentary on the polar bears that aired with great success on the channel last year (a promo video can be seen in the following link).
Getting back to the Burrard-Lucas brothers. In 2011 they decided to return to Africa with improved versions of the original BeetleCam. They developed a 4 wheel armored robot with a Canon DSLR camera mounted inside that can be controlled from a distance as well as a more advanced (but unprotected) 6 wheel BeetleCam Mark II that can carry a heavier and more advanced DSLR camera. This time they decided to test their luck in Kenya with the lions of the Masai Mara. They were able to take some one of a kind close ups of both fully grown lions and small cubs and had many close encounters including engagements where the lions have turned the BeetleCam upside-down or even take the BeetleCam with their teeth and run away with it. Luckily the BeetleCam did not suffer extensive damage and the brothers came back to post their story with many images on their blog as well as a (must see) video trailer showing some of the adventures of the BeetleCams in Kenya.
If you are feeling especially daring you can even order your own BeetleCam from the Burrard-Lucas brothers and set out on your own candid camera adventure in the wild – just remember to ensure your $2000 or so BeetleCam against lions.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.