Alumnus Vikas Sathaye wins Academy Award for technical achievement

Alumnus Vikas Vinay Sathaye (M. Tech. Instrumentation, 1996) has received the Scientific and Engineering Award 2018 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, USA, for his contribution to developing an innovative aerial camera system used in filming several Hollywood blockbusters.

He shares the award with former colleagues John Coyle, Brad Hurndell and Shane Buckham at Shotover Camera Systems, a Queenstown, New Zealand-based company.The four received the prestigious award for the concept, design, engineering and implementation of the Shotover K1 Camera System. “This innovative six-axis stabilized aerial camera mount, with its enhanced ability to frame shots while looking straight down, enables greater creative freedom while allowing pilots to fly more effectively and safely,” states the Academy citation.

After completing a diploma in instrumentation from VPM’s polytechnic, Thane, and a bachelor’s degree in electronics from VIT Pune, Sathaye joined IISc for his M. Tech. degree in Instrumentation in 1994, where he worked on a project on Crystallization Robots. Following his graduation in 1996, he briefly taught at Cummins College of Engineering for Women, Pune.

While on a trip to Italy for a project with Fiat, he became fascinated with the automation technology used in car manufacture and decided to enter the field of embedded software technology. After working at a few organizations, he eventually joined a newly established company called Shotover Camera Systems in Queenstown, New Zealand, which was developing a state-of-the-art aerial filming camera mount. The mount, also called a gimbal, is attached to the base of the helicopter that carries the camera and lens. Its primary function is to eliminate vibration to enable a steady, jitter-free footage, and also move the camera head in any desired direction.

“Traditionally gimbals used to have analog control system and our objective was to design the control system which will be based on digital technology,” says Sathaye. “As a software and control system engineer, my primary job was to stabilize the camera platform and move the gimbal head in the desired direction based on the joystick commands issued by the camera operator. Besides this, I was responsible for driving the servo-lens system and to display all the camera and gimbal-related parameters as overlay on the LCD monitor.”

Starting with a single axis mount for 2D filming, the team eventually developed a 6-axis 3D gimbal that can be used with a wide range of cameras and lenses. Their first 3D prototype, called the Shotover K1, was used in shooting the film Walking with Dinosaurs. Since then, Shotover K1 has been used in over a hundred different films, including The Hobbit, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Spectre, Deepwater Horizon, Spiderman: Homecoming and Dunkirk.

The team received the academy plaques in a ceremony held at Beverly Wilshire, Los Angeles, USA, on 10th February, 2018. “I would like to thank my family, my teachers, friends and colleagues who have loved me and supported me always,” says Sathaye.

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