HAMBURG, Germany—Nicolas Chibac has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
With a background in advertising and music videos, filming extreme sports competitions and serious documentaries for TV, the 37-year-old founder of Spherie UG was at the ready here two years ago when Scooter, the everlasting Europop band, requested a video of one of its concerts that avoided showing camera operators and tripods.
It was the first “360 drone shot for a concert,” Chibac said. And it set the stage for Spice VR, his virtual-reality production company, to develop a cube-shaped drone called Spherie—with plans to offer interactive 3D animations. His firm developed, “the worldwide first 360 VR film drone,” he said in a group interview with British and American journalists visiting entrepreneurs in several German cities this week.
As it happens, “Hamburg just announced that it wants to become the virtual reality place in Germany, and maybe even Europe,” he noted. The port city of 1.9 million people (including Chibac) is using video shot with Spherie to promote tourism, “so that you can look at this place” from anywhere in the world.
Spherie films in all directions at once—using cameras positioned around a drone operated by a camera person normally no further than 300 meters to the side and no more than 60 meters below (to comply with government aviation rules).
It avoids views obscured by pesky camera operators and tripods and the dreaded “parallax issue,” which amounts to unwanted overlap of filmed images. “That was the problem we had to solve,” he said, noting that use of a drone was simply the only solution available.
“I was really familiar with drones,” he added. “I crashed my first big commercial drone seven years ago in the pool of a five-star hotel in Bali.”
Chibac, who goes by Nico, projects the air of an international playboy, but he two weeks ago missed SXSW in Austin, Texas, to be here for the birth of his youngest child.
His latest global adventure took place this month on Richard Branson’s invitation-only, 74-acre island in the British Virgin Islands just north of Virgin Gorda.
Chibac’s Necker Island spiel went like this: “It’s like you start with something to solve, and then you realize, okay, this is actually a product with a market in which you can fill a gap. And then you see, OK, 360 film outdoors. And the drone can also film indoors. And then you realize, OK, we could also do photogrammetry with it, and do 3D environment scanning.
“People do that already with drones, but not in all directions at the same time, and not indoors. Then it’s like ‘the new thing.’ And then you combine two growing markets, drones and VR. And it’s like, OK, that’s something new.”
When Google started driving around with cars taking panoramic photos of practically every street in every city, people thought it was “completely nonsense,” Chibac said. “Now it’s completely normal.”
The Silicon Valley types—including entrepreneurs, investors, techies, artists and musicians—with whom he spoke on Necker Island dreamed aloud of “capturing the world so that we can leave planet Earth and travel to Mars and take it with us as a copy,” he said.
“I think we will have, from everything, a virtual copy in the future. So there will be always a virtual twin for everything.”
The only manufacturer with which Chibac has had dealings so far is Basler, an industrial camera producer based in Ahrensburg, Germany. “They are really interested in the market of 360° film, which they don’t have yet.”
But Spherie has obvious appeal for aerospace and defense manufacturers. The multiple-camera, see-all system offers live views and could also be outfitted with sensors that could, for example, detect and/or transmit heat.
Spherie UG, which employs seven people and recently secured about 150,000 Euros in city funding, is in beta-testing mode. It plans to in the next few months sell the first version of Spherie, for commercial use.
The company is further developing its software “so that we have a whole pipeline,” he said. “The idea is to have a fully automated drone that flies through a building on its own” making a full scan of the building and sending with 5G the scan into the cloud “where it is fully programmed, processed, and then delivered worldwide in the needed format.”
Chibac managed to get a brief audience with Branson. And when he showed him a 360 drone shot of his private Caribbean island, the business magnate was left speechless, he said.
But then another guest of the island owner stole the spotlight.
President Barack Obama was also on the scene, kite surfing.
“And so Richard hadn’t too much time for us anymore,” Chibac said. “Obama was extending his stay because he loved the kite surfing there. So Richard went kite surfing instead of being in meetings.”