Article: The Rise Of The Robotic Camera | from The Broadcast Bridge | By Adrian Pennington
The rise of the PTZ camera, discussed in a previous post, fits into the wider trends for remote operation, robotic cameras, and automated content production. We spoke with Mark Roberts Motion Control (Nikon-owned since 2016), one of the pioneers in robotic cameras to gain insight into the drivers for this, new applications and future developments.
The film and TV industry continues to benefit from automation efficiencies with motion control robotics compatible with third party products throughout entirely automated workflows. Machine vision and real-time image analysis are helping to augment the control of moving cameras, while robust IP architecture permits extreme remote operation. Systems are getting smaller, saving camera footprints and opening up a wider range of potential positions while the layers of system redundancy and control options reduce risk in live operations
Assaff Rawner, CEO of MRMC suggests another reason for take-off:
“Taking viewers closer to the action and providing more unique perspectives and engagement is one. Another is consistency of output made possible through repeatable programmed moves. Also, the demand on space, whether seats in stadiums or modular studios, is increasing pressure to reduce the operational footprint of cameras whilst accommodating for the demand of increasing camera angles.”
Simplicity of integration in existing production workflows is one of the key advances of robotic cameras. MRMC has focused on a simple plug and play approach to broadcast robotics releasing a range of Polycam and MHC products products tailored to remove the complex user operation usually associated with multi-head robotic camera systems.
Its acquisition of Camerobot last year, has also brought together best of breed hardware and software to create a new level of broadcast studio multi-axis robotic studio solutions including VR and AR integration with all the major vendors.
With the rise in quality of small format cameras, advancing motor technology and motion control software, together with new levels of product design aesthetics, robotic camera positions are bringing a level of motion usually associated with manually controlled fluid heads and in positions that add further value to productions. Such advances are allowing robotic cameras moves to be cut live to air (rather than just replays) and, through a wider range of payload and mounting options, opens the possibility of more camera positions without compromise to venue audience space.
“Another area of growth for robotic cameras has been in the rise of remote productions (or REMIs),” says Rawner. “With the increasing availability of stable high-bandwidth networks, the control of camera robotics over IP is an attractive proposition to lower production costs and minimise travel. MRMC has standardized on IP control for all of its robotic range with built-in features such as network diagnostics, IP video encoding at the camera head and localised user client applications for full feature remote control.”
To read the full article visit The Broadcast Bridge Here
Designed for live sports capture, Polycam One is an innovative, portable, multi-camera workflow solution that gives a single operator the ability to record a match from multiple camera positions simultaneously.
Polycam One maps out the playing area and the locations of up to 12 robotic cameras. The camera operator follows the action with the ‘main’ camera, while Polycam One controls the additional robotic cameras, following the focus of the ‘main’ camera.
MRMC’s Algorithmic Camera Control lets the operator concentrate on covering the action while the Polycam One system provides complimentary shots, such as a wide or high tactical view, which can be used for highlights, replays or adjudication.
The robotic cameras are IP connected, allowing the operator, or an additional remote operator, to adjust and control them in real time providing a more dynamic visual experience.
Easily deployed and configured by a single operator, Polycam One is perfect for use in multiple locations and can be set up in venues where conventional camera positions are not available. The portable nature Polycam One makes it ideal for smaller or temporary venues that may not have the infrastructure to support automated tracking solutions, and also gives sports teams the ability to easily capture footage from multiple angles at training grounds.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT POLYCAM ONE HERE
Robotic Pod Capturing the Impossible
The Robotic Pod is the latest in a wide range of powerful MRMC image acquisition units for sports stadiums, events and live concerts. The completely weatherproof Robotic Pod (housing a Nikon DSLR D5 or D850), can be positioned in places around a venue typically not accessible, to capture unique angles and perspectives which result in spectacular photography and video.
The unit has been used for major sporting events including Wimbledon, Rio Games, the FINA World Championships as well as multiple other sporting events. There is also an Underwater Robotic Pod for water sports and swimming events.
Watch this short video where AFP guides you through the use of the Robotic Pod and Underwater Robotic Pod at the FINA World Swimming Championships. Join us a the NAB Show this year to get hands-on demonstrations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE ROBOTIC POD CLICK HERE
THE MRMC AND CAMEROBOT STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP HERALDS A NEW ERA IN BROADCAST ROBOTICS AND STUDIO MOTION CONTROL
Experts in camera robotics, Mark Roberts Motion Control Ltd [MRMC] has consolidated the highly respected German Camerobot robotic high-speed systems into the MRMC product portfolio of motion control and high-speed camera robotics. MRMC is now the worldwide ‘one-stop-shop’ for film, broadcast and studio motion control, automation and robotic products and applications.
MRMC is now the worldwide ‘one-stop-shop’ for film, broadcast and studio motion control, automation and robotic products and applications.
MRMC will work closely with Camerobot application software partners, Robotic Technology Leaders GmbH (rtLeaders), who will be providing service and support to all existing Camerobot customers, as well as developing exciting application software for motion control broadcast robotics with MRMC. Henceforth, MRMC will take control and responsibility for Camerobot customer sales, technical and aftersales support for all new systems.
In recent years Camerobot and MRMC have both successfully installed camera robotic solutions based on Stäubli industrial robots. MRMC and Camerobot have extensive understanding and experience working with large broadcast companies such as Globo, Sky, NDR, SMG (to name but a few). The amalgamation of MRMC and Camerobot technology, products, application software, experience and technical knowledge heralds exciting prospects for the broadcast, studio and television sectors.
Assaff Rawner, CEO at MRMC comments:
“MRMC from a business and growth perspective are celebrating the integration of respected Camerobot products and applications into the MRMC catalogue, but more importantly we are delighted for the broadcast industry who will benefit significantly from the integration of two great names in studio and broadcast motion control.”
“MRMC has experienced year-on-year growth across our product catalogue, offering studio and broadcast solutions from simple pan tilt head units to large scale robotic arms, all with full VR/AR custom made with studio automation options.”
Mark Roberts Motion Control Ltd (MRMC) based in Surrey (UK), is the world leader in high-end camera robotics, automation, motion control camera hardware and application software for film, video, broadcasting and product photography for over 50 years. In 2016, MRMC was acquired by Nikon Corporation.
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
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.
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
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.
Visit our stand: Hall 12, F11.
Location map: https://goo.gl/CCgxtt
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)
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
Traditional PTZ Cameras
Small, traditional PTZ’s are relatively compact, simple units with built-in cameras. They are slightly bland ‘eyeball’ looking things that are typically used for surveillance and security, or for basic broadcast functions like streaming in-house content or perhaps capturing a corporate event or live show. Where the user has minimal requirements of the camera, these units are a workable solution for simple image capture. The usual price point comes in at around £3,000 for the higher end models like JVC or Sony.
The PTZ camera becomes a little frailer if an operator requires more input than merely turning it on and letting it do its thing. Users who want more functionality are then faced with the conundrum of either going into the larger range of pan/tilt systems – often much more complex to setup and run, and obviously, costing a lot more too – or making do with the very limited functionality of a regular PTZ camera.
The High-Speed Whisper
The Whisper Head, MRMC’s latest sleek, high-speed unit considerably closes this gap between the two markets. It gives the best of both worlds, with full control over image capture from a compact portable unit that’s eerily silent and frighteningly fast. It’s noiseless and almost mesmeric movement is controlled through the usual panoply of external devices: broadcast panel, joystick or through a touchscreen device run by the control software, MHC.
The weather-proof Whisper Head is designed to seamlessly fit into a multitude of different environments that many of the traditional PTZs fit into – from live shows, corporate events, house of worship and the like, to security and outdoor surveillance situations as well as more traditional broadcast requirements.
Functionally and operationally, the Whisper Head is light-years beyond any typical small PTZ – from complete camera control to programmable, repeatable moves, to remote control capture through IP. It has many of the size benefits smaller PTZs have, but with the control, functionality and image quality found in larger pan/tilt systems.
Changeable Camera Option
The Whisper Head also has the capability of changing the camera. Traditional smaller PTZs have the cameras built in and therefore being stuck with the technology it came with. With the Whisper, operators can keep pace with the camera technology landscape while also having a greater creative choice with using the PTZ.
Working with the RovoCam 4k, or another similar spec. camera, you can get extremely high image quality that’s typically the reserve of much larger format cameras used on the high-end pan/tilt systems. Weighing in at a comfortable 6.5kg, the head is easy to carry and transport along with having a small physical footprint.
The Whisper Head is in the unique position of having a nice diverse range of usages, covering a wide spectrum of features and functionality that small PTZs have (silent, compact weatherproof and portable), with the added features and benefits of its larger pan/tilt cousin to capture more premium content like sports and other broadcast events – not to mention, its ballistically fast!
For more information on the Whisper Head visit www.mrmoco.com/whisper-head
This year’s NAB Show was likely one of our busiest and we had a tremendous amount of interest in MHC (Multi-Head Controller) software, and its ability to have tailored skins. Another key focal point was in IP connected technology; many visitors were interested in the ability of remote production through IP, using MHC tailored skins with our robotic heads.
See the short video below from IABM, who visited our stand, and conducted a short interview, that covers this great new technology of MHC.
For more information on any of the above robotics or MHC software, click on the hyperlinks above, or get it touch