Robots have fascinated mankind for decades. For those of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s, our introduction to robots was probably Johnny 5 and we’ve been obsessed with them ever since. Growing up to become a photographer or filmmaker, robots we can attach cameras to are the ultimate tool and toy. One camera robot in particular on the Axibo stand at NAB 2023 stood out to us.
So, we stopped by to have a chat with Axibo CEO Anoop Gadhrri to learn more about it and the company itself. Founded about a year and a half ago, the company’s goal is to democratise cinema robotics. They want to give advanced robot capabilities, including virtual production, to filmmakers on much lower budgets than the typical Hollywood solutions.
Maximum versatility for minimum budgets
Motion control robotics, at least when it comes to video, has been mostly in the realm of Hollywood and major TV studios until very recently. Even now, though, very few devices exist on the market that are within the budgets of most independent filmmakers or even small studios. Axibo is changing this with the Axibo PT4, a motion control robot with some very advanced features and a very low price point.
The basic (I use that term very loosely) Axibo PT4 system is available for a hair under $2,500 and allows you to shoot a wide range of subjects robotically. You’ve got everything from simple timelapse and quick product shots to gesture control, subject tracking and even complete virtual productions. It even has an open source API available, letting you create your own custom software to control it.
To make the most of the PT4, you’ll also want the Axibo S1 motion control slider, but the two units together are still priced at only $2,997. For the capability this combo offers, which is demonstrated in the video above, you’re saving a lot of money over the typical options available today, which typically range into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Powered by AI (and unreal Engine)
The Axibo PT4 boasts a number of AI features that don’t require the masses of GPU power that virtual production systems typically demand. Thanks to a built-in Neural Processing Unit (NPU), the PT4 is capable of motion tracking not only its own position but that of subjects which may pass across your camera’s view. This information can feed back to Unreal Engine in order to display a virtual scene on a TV or projected screen behind the subject, allowing it to update the display in real-time without the need for an array of sensors to track the position of everything.
And yes, normally, such real-time use of Unreal Engine would require that mass of GPU power I mentioned above, but Axibo’s system allows you to pre-render the footage. This means it requires minimal processing power on-set during the actual production. It’s so low demand that with everything pre-rendered in advance, you could even run it from a MacBook Pro.
From slider to Jib
Axibo is expanding its range – in more sense than one – this year by adding the Axibo E-Jib Mini to its lineup. As the name suggests, this is a motorised motion control jib, allowing for a much wider range of motion than you can achieve with a simple slider. This 6-axis motion control system offers movement speeds of up to 1 metre per second, which is ideal for those slow-motion product shots.
The E-Jib Mini is not quite available yet, and no final price has been published, although it’s expected to come in at under $7,000. This is obviously a significant amount of money, but compared to the typical motion control jibs used in movies and TV shows, it’s a very inexpensive option.
Price and availability
The Axibo PT4 and S1 Slider are available to buy now from the Axibo website. The PT4 on its own is $2,498, and in a package containing both the PT4 and S1 slider, the price is $2,997. Various accessories are available to add to the system to add extra levels of capability, including a high-speed module, a focus module, a zoom module and a plugin that allows you to communicate with Unreal Engine 4 or 5.