Robotics systems give viewers a whole new perspective on sporting action.
Ten years ago, only big sporting events had the budget for robotics. Today, it's common to have two or three systems on an event. Robotic camera systems are allowing networks to bring their audience a view of the action from places manned cameras can't go. Robovision has been providing these specialized robotic services to NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC and ESPN for the past 12 years. The company was one of the first to install a robotic camera system in a sports venue — building one into the legendary turn 4 at the Daytona Speedway in 1991. The implementation was so successful that the following year, it integrated eight systems into ABC Sport's coverage of the Indianapolis 500.
Our inventory is built around the Vinten AutoCam system, which enables us to control multiple cameras with only one operator. This saves both man-hours and production expenses, two important factors for the networks. The workhorse of our complement is the AutoCam HS-105P pan-and-tilt head. The heads provide reliable service, despite abuse in the field. Several of these systems were designed for us, specifically for use with larger ENG cameras and lens combinations. We also make use of substantial inventory of HS-102 lightweight servo pan-and-tilt heads for a variety of applications. The heads work well, as they are small and unobtrusive. Add to this 18 Sony BVP-950s and 550s with splitblock configuration, an in-house metal shop where all custom mounts are fabricated, and a selection of Fujinon and Canon lenses for close-up sports coverage.
Robovision uses a complement of Vinten Autocam systems to give viewers a taste of the speed involved in NASCAR racing.
Capturing the action
This year, we will televise more than 190 network sporting events, with as many as 10 robotic systems. This includes providing trackside robotics for Winston Cup, Championship Auto Racing Teams, Indy Racing League, NASCAR Trucks, NASCAR Busch and a variety of smaller race series. We also provide trackside coverage for the popular “Crank it up” segment of Fox Sports' coverage of the Winston Cup. The NBC portion of the season usesfive special robotics systems we developed for panning cars traveling almost 200 mph. It is our objective to take the home viewer trackside so they can appreciate the speed of the event. Television can be deceiving — in most cases, the sense of speed is lost in television coverage.
Robovision specializes in auto racing, but we also have worked with NFL and college football for years, providing the networks with goalpost cameras and robotics in positions where a manned camera is not possible.
Jim Warden is president of Robovision.