FROM THE EDITOR:
The Future of KAP
December 31, 2001
The Xcam2 from X10 that first hit the KAP scene a little over a year ago created quite a stir. The number of KAPers using video assisted aiming jumped from a meager 5 in 1999 to an estimated 20 plus. I'm sure cost is a big factor along with the smaller size of the Xcam2's transmitter. The size and weight was pushed back even further with the 20 gram "Nat" video camera / 2.4 GHz TX combination in the picture below (Polaris USA).
Despite this rush to video, I suspect many often leave their video systems on the ground when KAPing. Why? The extra weight, more batteries, more ground equipment to interfere with kite flying. The Nat at 20 grams is close to the limit for miniaturization, future improvements can not be as drastic as the differences between the Xcam2 and the Nat. Now that the weight and size of the video camera and transmitter have been optimized the future lies with improving the power sources and the ground equipment.
For the immediate future I see power sources on KAP rigs becoming more consolidated. One set of batteries will supply power for the RC system, the video system, and possibly a digital camera if one is used. Most of these systems require different voltages, so a combination of step-up or step-down voltage regulators/converters will be involved. The Xcam2 battery pack has a built in circuit that converts the power 4 AA batteries to 12 volts. Brooks Leffler mentioned using the Maxim 761 chip to create a more robust DC-DC converter. Another chip that requires fewer external components is the C&D Technologies NME0512S which can be purchased from Mauser Electronics.
Two or more years down the road miniature fuel cell technology should become available. The plethora of portable electronic devices has driven research to make a longer lasting power source for laptops, cell phones and PDAs. Quoting Rueters on December 28, 2001
"Japan's largest maker of mobile handsets, NEC Corp, is collaborating with two Japan government research bodies to develop a fuel- cell battery that runs on methanol and uses nano- technology." "NEC says the invention's energy capacity will be 10 times that of a regular lithium battery, allowing people to use a current- generation mobile phone for a month without recharging, or work on a laptop computer for a full day."Pardon me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.
The ground equipment for video has to overcome problems with portability, power, and screen wash-out. There are some screens that claim to be less susceptible to wash-out from the sun. Heads Up displays (Beick, AE 3.2) seem to hold the most promise for a one man KAP video system. I'm afraid that this end of the video equation will be slower to evolve because there is not the same pressure on the manufacturers to miniaturize as exists with video cameras. One future possibility is the use of PDA's (handheld computers) as display devices. PDAs could also be used to interface with the RC system.
KAP has necessarily been a pursuit for those who enjoy tinkering with mechanical and electronic systems. The photographic skills of most KAPers have suffered because of this constant but necessary focus on the equipment. I see a shift toward more interest in the photographic process, driven by several factors. As KAP equipment becomes easier to use and the KAPer has more control over the picture taking process, more KAPers will drift towards using the tools available and away from developing those tools. Hopefully not too many will make this migration because we will always need innovators to push the limits of KAP.
To achieve greater photographic control KAP cradles will have to integrate features that allow the KAPer to remotely adjust variable focal length lenses, shutter speeds, and apertures. This evolution will follow two paths. One path will use SLR film cameras and will have many mechanical aspects. The other path will use digital cameras and interface through the camera's serial, or USB port.
Speaking of digital cameras, KAP will see more digitals used until they will become more common than film cameras. This trend is true of the consumer photography industry as a whole. One consequence of this shift toward digital cameras will be an increase in film and developing costs. Don't go out and stock up on 35 mm film just yet. This is several years down the road, but it is coming.
Digital cameras make it easier for KAPers to experiment with the photographic process. Even if many of the camera's controls are not used while taking KAP pictures, digital pictures can be improved upon with computer software. Once the KAPer sees the limits of the digital darkroom, they will be more motivated to develop ways to control the camera while exposing the image.
I didn't stick my neck out too far, I didn't predict KAP on the moon by the end of the decade. You can see that there is plenty of uncharted territory ahead for KAP (without having to go to the moon).
(The previous letters "From The Editor" can be found by clicking on Past Articles in the Table of Contents.)