HEXO+ In Action: The Pass’portes MTB Event with Charles Colas

Greetings. My name is Charles Colas. I’m a passionate mountain biker and snowboarder. I love to be active and spend time outdoors, which came naturally growing up in the Alps. I’m also an embedded firmware developer for HEXO+.

I’ve always loved watching videos from pro riders in a range of disciplines, and I try to get footage from many of my own biking or snowboarding sessions. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to take HEXO+ for a ride while I was attending an event in the Alps called Pass’Portes du Soleil. It’s one of the largest mountain biking events in the heart of the Alps. Over several days, Pass’Portes offers riders the opportunity to explore 143 kilometers of trails and 9,102 meters in climbing and descending. Luckily, riders can tap a network of chairlifts from ski resorts in the area for a little assistance with many of these climbs.

After working on the HEXO+ system for more than six months now, I’ve become quite familiar with the platform. After all, I’m testing it every few days. Yet Pass’Portes served as my first opportunity to take HEXO+ into the field for my own personal use. The timing was perfect, as the system is now robust and we’re gearing up for production. I had an amazing time using HEXO+ in real life and came back from the event with souvenirs for my friends and me.

Pass’Portes is exciting—and exhausting. It requires riders to be in shape and to waste no energy. I brought HEXO+ along for the ride, but never noticed it while transporting it on my back. One of the first things I confirmed during my ride was that you can carry HEXO+ with you wherever you go.

hexo-on-bag

HEXO+ fits easily on a backpack. Other than throwing a cover over the platform to shelter it from the mud—a simple plastic bag will work just fine—I took no special precautions. In fact, I acted like the drone wasn’t even on my backpack—HEXO+ is beefy and designed to be easily transported in the field.

hexo-on-bag2

I loved the fact that the platform is so durable that I could simply strap it to my pack—I didn’t have to place HEXO+ inside my bag and dig around for it when I wanted to put it use. I took four spare batteries, yet the weight wasn’t excessive and didn’t bother me.

While riding with my friends, we often put HEXO+ to use. In one spot, we came across an amazing view from the singletrack. With no hesitation, I put HEXO+ in the air. It was the perfect spot for a “Follow Me” moment.

hexosingletrack

I took HEXO+ off my backpack and assembled it. This was easy, requiring few movements—in just a couple seconds I clipped the legs in, slid the gimbal on the rail, and screwed it on the mount. I did this all with gloves, although it would have been slightly faster without them. I then slid the battery in, switched HEXO+ on, and connected HEXO+ with its app on my Samsung Galaxy S4. I waited five seconds for the system to be ready, allowing the app to confirm it was receiving a sufficient GPS signal and complete an autocheck on all sensors and the battery. From start to finish, it took me less than two minutes to get HEXO+ ready to fly—and again, that was with my gloves on.

My friends turned their helmet cams on, and we were suddenly ready to drop in. There was a feeling of freedom in the air—perhaps it came from the fact that we were filming from the sky, but needed no radio controls. Yet I was still anxious for that first take off.

Using my app, I instructed the drone to take off. Then, with a couple touches on my smartphone screen, I moved it to the position I desired. HEXO+ was stable and executed my requests readily. I had to smile when I saw my friends’ faces—they looked as though they had just seen a magic trick that they couldn’t believe. Some people who were passing by us kept looking around for a drone pilot. They seemed surprised to find none. Clearly, they didn’t notice that I had control of the drone from my smartphone.

Once HEXO+ was in position, I locked the screen of my smartphone and threw it in the pocket of my pants. We dropped in and started charging—we were stoked. The light buzz sound that came from HEXO+ reassured me that the drone was following us. All in all, I glanced in the air just a couple of times to spot the drone and make sure it was filming us.

hexo-lake

After a ten minute ride at an altitude of over 2,000 meters, we arrived at the end of the singletrack. I asked the drone to get closer with the “Come to Me” button in the app. There were a few people around us, and they were excited to see the drone. They seemed to understand that I was controlling HEXO+ with my smartphone. Their comments and conversations with one another clearly indicated they were intrigued by the drone. I found a nice spot for it to land and pressed the land button. And to no surprise—the drone’s landing was sweet. Within two minutes, I had HEXO+ on my backpack, and we were pedaling once again.

That first filming session further boosted my confidence. Each time I spotted a location that was worth filming—and that offered enough space for the drone to be safe in the air—we pulled out HEXO+ and had it capture us bombing our lines with the “Follow Me” feature. If we were on a peak, I used the “360° Selfie” and “Fly out” shots to reveal the location and showcase the beauty of our surroundings from the air.

hexo-group

Simply put, we had an amazing day! Once back home, my friends and I got together to check out the footage. We were more stoked than a pack of college kids on spring break. The footage was superb and the framing was almost always perfect. Watching it made us feel as though we were pro riders getting filmed by a crew in a heli. Later in the week, a friend and I used GoPro Studio—which is free—to edit our footage. We used shots from both HEXO+ and from our helmet cams and picked a tune that worked well with the action.

The result was killer.

We then did a screening with my friends—and they’re still talking about it. Even though I’m constantly working with HEXO+ and am so familiar with it, I got the chills watching our footage. It was the first time none of us had to stop riding to film the others—and definitely the first time we could see ourselves charging together from an aerial perspective. Those of my friends who didn’t pre-order HEXO+ are already waiting for their next paycheck. It’s not tough to guess how they plan to spend it.

If you want to follow Pass’portes event or attend next year, here you can find more infos about it. It’s a real party for any MTB lovers, make sure you join next year.

passportesdusoleil.com

Charles.

Comments/Discussions

Charles
Charles works within our embedded software development team. He’s by far the most knowledgable of us when it comes to drones—there’s even a rumor saying he whispers to their ears. Other than that he used to race on a snowboard cross at a pretty decent level and loves his AM/enduro MTB riding.