THE MARK ROBERTS MOTION CONTROL BLOG

Broadcast Director Steve Boland Q&A: Trends in Automation & Robotics

Trends in Automation & Robotics

STEVE BOLAND, BROADCAST DIRECTOR @ MRMC, PROVIDES THE BENEFIT OF HIS EXPERIENCE, INSIGHT AND OPINION, DISCUSSING THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS AND TRENDS IN AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS… AND WHAT TO EXPECT FROM MRMC AT IBC2017

Q: What are the key opportunities for your customers in the current market environment?
A: Steve Boland:

Choice! MRMC is about image acquisition for broadcast, film and media production and there has never been more choice for imaging tools as there are today. Designing sophisticated camera moves has largely been the domain of specialist solutions operating on high budget productions. Whether shooting for live or post produced applications, MRMC provide solutions for the broadest possible spectrum of imaging technologies.


Q: So what are the major technology drivers for the business going forward?
A: Steve Boland:

The media production industry is driven by highly skilled and dedicated people working as a collective whole. The synergy between the tasks and communication of the team is key to a successful production. Our technology drivers are measured by this synergy. If we are attempting to simplify or automate a task, is the solution as good or better than current methods?


Q: How will MRMC at IBC shed light on these developments?
A: Steve Boland:

IBC brings together a broad range of MRMC robotics, including High-Speed Solutions and versatile Multi-Axis Arms, to compact Pan and Tilt Systems. These systems can provide an extraordinary level of creative acquisition options and our focus is to show the simplicity of how these solutions can fit in a modern production environment.


Q: Why should delegates visit the MRMC stand at IBC?
A: Steve Boland:

To get ‘hands-on’ and have fun. MHC is our new control interface that brings a new level of simplicity and customisable ‘skins’ based on the user’s production environment. To date we have created skins for tennis, basketball, darts, studios and can design any number of skins based on the requirements of our customers. Our stand at IBC offers delegates the chance to play and explore robotics and MHC skins as extensions of their imaginations. Visitors can meet Bolt, the world’s fastest Cinebot and drive a StudioBot. New at IBC and can be seen on the MRMC stand is the Whisper Head PTZ and Robotic Pod.


Q: Do you think the IBC event has come at a good time for the electronic media industry? Why?
A: Steve Boland:

IBC is always a good annual evaluation platform for the industry. Whether it comes at a good or bad time is a matter of perspective. The level of exhibitors and visitors will continue to act as a barometer for the health of the industry.


Q: What do you think are the key developments in, or threats to the market sector at the current time?
A: Steve Boland:

From an image acquisition perspective, there is a new focus on operations that are formulaic and repetitive and those that require a greater level of creative input. As with many other industries, automation is key topic as the cost and efficiency benefits can be substantial. However, it is easy to envisage how problems can arise when the idea of automation is so compelling and the transition from a non-automated to an automated model is seen as a one-step process. From a robotics manufacturer’s business view the prospect of fully automated environments would appear as a persuasive driver. The reality is that we are in the business of facilitating compelling camera moves and whether that is following a football player for 90 minutes or capturing the impact of a bullet through a high-speed move, the result has to look natural and organic. Automation is not a one step process nor a term for shortcut cost savings, but thinking about a future creative industry where certain tasks will be automated, gives rise to transitional technologies that augment the best of human productivity.


Q: Why should delegates visit the MRMC stand at IBC?
A: Steve Boland:

Our mission at IBC is to showcase some of the transitional technologies that help facilitate a reduction in the timescale between the creative idea and the executed product. Simplifying controls for specific tasks is one of the key features of our new robotic software ‘MHC’. MHC allows the end-user to define the interface that is right for their application. This can be a tailored design for the unique task of a specific camera position and in a particular multi-camera environment. Through such fit-for-purpose user interfaces, the single task is elevated to a uniquely focussed task so the best possible tools are provided for that role. Delegates can explore these interfaces and bring their own ideas for camera positions to life via MHC.


VISIT US AT IBC SHOW: HALL 12, F11.
Location map: https://goo.gl/CCgxtt

For more information on MHC click here

IBC Show 2017 Stand Focus

Broadcast Robotics at IBC Show 2017

This year we will have a range of high tech robotics on the IBC stand, We have expanded our booth size, so we can include more robotics for you to test and have live demonstrations.

Due to popular demand, the Bolt High-Speed CineBot on track returns to IBC, and we will be offering IBC visitors a very interesting video experience – so visit the stand to find out – and bring your mobile phones!

Joining Bolt on the stand is the multifunctional MRMC StudioBot – a complete studio automation robotic solution with up to nine axes of synchronised motion – offering broadcasters an efficient fully automated work flow.


Bolt High Speed CineBot and Ceiling Mounted StudioBot

Stand visitors can also ‘road test’ the AFC-100s PTZ, ideal for a multitude of broadcast studio applications

MRMC’s Robotic Pod™, the next generation remote capture unit, for sports, events and other live broadcasts, and The high speed, completely silent Whisper Head, a small compact unit with a diverse range of applications, such as live shows, corporate events, house of worship or for security and surveillance. These robotic solutions raise the bar in broadcast with an impressive array of advanced broadcast camera head features, automation and functionality.

These camera heads are controlled on the MRMC stand, through two software applications – Flair and MHC (multi head controller) – visit our stand for demonstrations of MHC controlling multiple robotic heads from a single console.

Get your pass for FREE if you register before August 18th, 2017 by clicking here – or if you miss the deadline, use our complimentary registration code 4927 to get a free ticket.

Visit our stand: Hall 12, F11.
Location map: click here

Meet Us at IBC Show to See The Latest Automated Robotics

IBC Registration

JOIN US AT IBC SHOW

IBC Show is next month, and we wanted to give a quick preview of the latest technology we’ll have at the show. Come along to our stand Hall 12, F11 where will be demonstrating our latest revolutionary broadcast solutions – incorporating next generation automated robotic tracking technologies that maximize the creative output from a small studio and crew.

The stand will also feature a Bolt on track, the fastest robot of its kind in the world, as well as the StudioBot Lite, our most compact and versatile robotic arm – ideal for compact pop-up studios.

Ask for a demonstration of the latest skin designs for our MHC (Multi Head Control) software, which allows the most complicated of camera positions to be creatively captured and enabled in a touch screen interface.

Also on the stand will be our all-weather stadium Robotic Pod solution, the small and silent Whisper robot and the incredibly flexible AFC 100s.

REGISTER HERE

Visit our stand: Hall 12, F11.
Location map: https://goo.gl/CCgxtt

Camera automation for Sky Sports’ PDC Darts Championships coverage

Case Study: Camera Automation for Sky Sports' PDC Darts Championship Coverage

CASE STUDY: PDC WORLD DARTS CHAMPIONSHIP WITH MHC

MRMC has been providing robotic systems for Sky Sports coverage of the PDC darts championships for 3 years. Between the 2013-2016 seasons, the robotic systems were used in elevated positions where operators cannot access directly. Control of camera moves is extended to a backstage position where the operators use encoded pan bar systems to simulate the function of manually controlled cameras. (See Figure 1)Pan Bars and Ulti-Head System at Sky's PDC Darts Championship

Working closely with the production and technical facilities teams over the years, MRMC were able to adapt features that helped enhance the camera operator’s coverage. Providing pre-set functionality allowed the operators to quickly get to a position on the dartboard to keep pace with the play. (See Figure 2 below)

Prior to the 2017 season, Sky looked to MRMC to provide a control solution for the 2 main match board cameras (positions 2 & 3). To date, these positions have been manned consisting of pedestal camera supports, full-sized fibre camera channels and 72x/86x box lenses. These positions require operators with a great deal of experience and skill to move quickly and accurately around the dartboard whilst using a high degree of lens magnification.


The challenge for MRMC was to design a control user interface that could provide this high level of match coverage, but using camera operators with little knowledge of the sport or the specifics of the positions. The solution needed to be completed within three weeks. Working closely with Sky Sports Production Director, Andy Finn, the full range of shots for each camera position were mapped out.

“Andy’s deep understanding of the sport and exceptional production knowledge allowed us to assemble a workshop test environment that emulated the live production,” comments Steve Boland, MRMC Broadcast Director. “This allowed us to establish an invaluable feedback loop to ensure every stage of the development was meeting the demands of the application,” he added.

The development was multi-faceted requiring a transition to a robotic model as well as designing a user interface specific to each camera position. The existing camera and lens configuration was generating too much flex when applied to the high-speed robotic moves required for the camera positions. To resolve this, Telegenic (outside broadcast supplier) provided Sony compact cameras with fibre converters allowing the robotic positions to be seamlessly integrated with the multi-cam production.

Reducing the physical footprint of the robotic positions was made possible by feedback from the on-going tests of the shots. Having defined all the shots required for each camera, this then allowed each shot to be stored as a preset in MRMC’s control software ‘MHC’. Because the precise camera positions were known for each fixture, the zoom positions for each shot were tested in advance. Due to the precise repeatability of each shot, this lead to a reduction in the size of the lenses from 86x s and 72x to 2 x 40x ENG-style lenses (See Figure 3)

According to Mike Ruddell, Sky Sports Head of Technology, “Reducing the footprint of the production technology is always welcome. Along with the associated efficiency this brings, it often helps with the fan’s visibility of the sport at the venue. But such reductions cannot compromise the quality of the production. A smaller footprint without the loss of quality, coupled with the precise repeatability of camera moves, provides us with a consistent product which is a value add for us.”


POSITIONING THE CAMERAS

The unique aspect of darts TV production is the operators have to position the cameras in advance of the play. As darts can be an extremely fast sport this means getting cameras around the board using very tight zooms, ahead of each throw. This requires a high level of skill and synergy between operators and the TV director. “Maintaining this production synergy was essential to accepting any technology changes,” commented Andy Finn, “the robotic user interface had to allow that synergy, which is crucial to achieving the high-quality international darts coverage Sky produce and to continue unimpeded by new methods of camera control.”

As the technology started to take shape, MRMC’s software designers worked through various iterations of the UI. Camera 2 required 27 different shots of the dartboard and camera 3 required 44. “The darts application allowed us to personalise the UI, not only for darts generally, but also for particular camera positions within darts,” stated Boland. “By making a direct correlation between the subject and controller, it made sense to use a graphical representation of a dart board as a skin.” (See Figure 4).

The new darts UI allows the user to position the camera and lens for each shot remotely and store by touching the area of the dartboard on the UI whilst in a ‘store’ mode status (See Figure 5). Once all the shots are stored the user selects a live mode allowing all the stored positions to be recalled simply by touching that area of the dartboard. The speed of motion between pre-sets is programmable allowing for each shot to have unique speed characteristics. As a pre-set is selected the graphic for that area of the board changes status to confirm to the user the request has been activated. The UI is presented on a 27” touchscreen display with each active area of the board equal to 3 times the size of the user’s finger touch area (See Figure 6). This allows for a confident selection of the area in a fast paced live production environment. Larger ancillary buttons are available outside the board area to provide programmable pre-sets for the most commonly used positions.



THE TREBLE 20 PUSH IN SHOT

One of the most difficult shots to produce is the camera 2 treble 20 push in. This move is used live on air when the darts player scores 2 treble 20s with his first 2 darts. Before dart 3 is thrown the camera zooms in from a wide to a tight position, framing the treble 20. The difficulty is the shot is framed offset to allow a split screen view of the dartboard to the left and the player to the right. The zoom in requires this offset to be maintained throughout the push in. So rather than a linear zoom, there is a small fraction of pan and tilt required during a much larger move of the zoom range (equal to 2 degrees of pan and 90 degree of zoom). This is a demanding shot for an operator and takes many years of practice to become almost a muscle memory function to repeat. To provide this shot the MRMC team designed a lens configuration table within the MHC darts application that linearizes the relationship between the small pan and tilt motion with the larger zoom motion. This creates a straighter line shot between the offset wide and tight shot, enabling a highly accurate and repeatable shot to highlight this dramatic section of the production. The skin also provides a touch area for creep zooming, allowing the operator to emphasise dramatic moments when a player repeats throws for a double and the cameras alternates between a slow zoom on the players face and a slow zoom on the area of the board he is aiming for.


The MHC control system also allows for hardware controllers to be attached as USB devices. The darts system uses a joystick panel with full manual control of pan, tilt, zoom and focus allowing the operator to re-adjust shots on the fly and move to other areas on or off the board. The system is also IP-based allowing the operator to be positioned at any location (globally via the internet) with full control of the camera head. Each robotic position receives power via UPS units allowing for up to 10 hours of uninterrupted power ensuring stored positions are not compromised through failure.

To date, the MHC darts systems have been used for 16 weeks of consecutive PDC Premier League Darts and the World Cup of Darts in Frankfurt. Using camera operators that have little previous experience of darts production, the systems have performed to the highest technical and production standards throughout each of these events. By removing the difficulty of manually creating these shots and the technical learning curve of a new system, the operators are able to immediately focus on the speed and synergy of the production environment which is this secret of Sky’s highly successful coverage of PDC darts.

Following the successful implementation of the darts interface and now that the software can complement the creative functions of traditional manned camera positions, the benefits of being in a soft design and learning environment can be further adapted to enhance the coverage of the sport. The style characteristics of individual darts players such as the speed of throws can be tailored to adjust the response of the presets creating a more dynamic relationship between the subject and camera. The software can also be easily deployed for training purposes, allowing for a greater pool of operators to learn the system without the need of transporting specialist equipment. As the system is IP-based this also allows for future remote production applications without the need for any workflow changes.

KEY PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS

  • Very fast product turnaround from commission to delivery
  • Precise camera move repeatability allowing consistency of production regardless of operator experience or venue changes
  • Simple intuitive UI to control complex camera moves
  • Less specialised control allowing for an increased pool of camera operators
  • Smaller technical footprint without quality compromise
  • IP – based and remote production ready
  • Personalised to specific sports and camera positions enhancing operation and coverage
  • Skins designs are quick to create at low cost
  • Designed by people involved in the production resulting in a fully tailored product

 


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Cannes Film Festival 2017 Robotic Pod Installation for AFP

Cannes Film Festival 2017

Robotic Pod at Cannes Film Festival Captures Incredible Photos

FOR THE SECOND YEAR RUNNING, AFP (ASSOCIATED FRENCH PRESS), HAS USED THE ROBOTIC POD TO CAPTURE STUNNING IMAGES FROM A LOCATION THAT IS COMPLETELY INACCESSIBLE TO PHOTOGRAPHERS DURING THE FESTIVAL.


Robotic Pod at Cannes Film FestivalUsing the Robotic Pod, fitted with a modified Nikon D5 and 80-400mm lens, AFP could easily zoom in on the stars as they made their way down the red carpet and capture photos that would be virtually impossible to capture otherwise. The Robotic Pod has three axis of movement, which allowed AFP to frame each picture precisely, all from a remote location far away from the red carpet. Given the Pod’s ability to be controlled over IP, photographers can be located at any remote location and have complete control over the Robotic Pod. As an example, back in 2014, during the Sochi Winter Games, AFP controlled one robot (mounted high up on the mountains ski slopes), from their press centre over 50km away in real time.


A UNIQUE ANGLE IS IMPORTANT TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD, THE SHOT ABOVE SHOWS 100’S OF PHOTOGRAPHERS CAPTURING THE SAME IMAGE. THE ROBOTIC POD HOWEVER, ALLOWED AFP PHOTOGRAPHER ANTONIN THUILLIER TO CAPTURE THE ANGLE ABOVE THE RED CARPET.

The Robotic Pod’s ability to capture unique and incredible images was instantly demonstrated at the Cannes festival, when Rihanna used one of the images caught by the Robotic Pod, on her Instagram feed (with 53 million followers), to show her arriving at the event.

Using the Robotic Pod at red carpet events and other shows has a number of interesting benefits, not only in terms of capturing unique images, but also in terms of photographers’ time – with the robot installed in advance, photographers won’t need to stand around for hours waiting for the celebrities to arrive.

It’s also possible to pick elevated angles that will give a clean background – or in some of the photos you can see here, use other guests and photographers as the background. The Robotic Pod also offers an incredible level of repeatability, so the same shot of each and every celebrity can be easily captured.

For more information on the Robotic Pod click here

Star at Cannes Film Festival Photo by Robotic Pod Photo by AFP with a Robotic Pod at Cannes Film Festival

All photos courtesy of Associated French Press.

CONTACT

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Contact

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