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Cameras embedded in chassis for INDYCar POV coverage

For several years car racing fans have been enjoying spectacular views of in-car camera systems that were retro-fitted on the dashboard or under the bumpers to give the impression of going along for the exhilarating ride. Now production companies that specialize in designing and installing point-of-view (POV) camera systems are now working the car manufacturers to place the cameras inside the chassis as the car is being built. This will give fans a more realistic experience of what it feels (and looks) like to be in the race.

Broadcast Sports, Inc. (BSI), a company in Hanover, Md. has incorporated three new HD on-board cameras, for a total of four systems, in the next-generation chassis for the 2012 INDYCAR season. BSI systems engineers worked with chassis manufacturer Dallara to carefully integrate BSI’s existing roll hoop camera (used in previous seasons) and three new Toshiba lipstick cameras into the body design and electrical system. The new cars will debut at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla. on March 25.

BSI representatives said the four cameras would provide new perspectives and never-before-seen action for viewers. In addition to the 360-degree roll hoop camera, BSI has included a camera in the rear wing, for a panoramic forward-facing shot. A camera placed in the right side radiator duct, facing the front tire and suspension, will offer side views of the racing action, while a camera on the rear view mirror will provide a detailed view of the driver steering and shifting. Most INDYCAR races will have six cars equipped with the new four-camera system with plans for 12 cars with on-boards at the Indy 500.

To get signals from the cars to the production truck on site, the production company will use a specially designed “intelligent diversity, distributed receive infrastructure,” whereby a ring of receive boxes is installed around the track and picks up the signals of a camera or wireless mic inside the car as it crosses its path. The camera operator simply moves from one box to the next and his signal is passed off between them and then on to a fiber transceiver (made by Ortel), which converts the RF spectrum into light and then sends it via fiber cable to the BSI mobile unit on site. BSI crews then provide one clean feed of every camera and microphone at the event and the director then chooses among them.

The system is actually made up of two parts: The ring of receivers and an intelligent diversity system that is used to select (at thousands of times per second) which bits of data they want to pass on to decode inside a dedicated BSI production truck onsite. These numerous feeds are then made available to the director overseeing the entire live broadcast inside the main production truck.

The infrastructure can work with any DVB-T compliant wireless camera or mic transmitter. The receive boxes, developed and made by BSI, are capable of working within the 1.4-1.5 GHz and 2.0-2.5 GHZ spectrum, depending upon what’s available at the time. The box receives the RF signals at their native microwave frequency, downconverts them to UHF, converts them to light, and using special hardware made by BSI (that performs filtering, amplification, and other “magic”) brings two discreet slices of spectrum back to the truck over a single-mode fiber cable.

This “ground-based intelligent receive” capability was developed by BSI for NASCAR about six years ago. At that point they were using wireless cameras inside of the cars and—using a technique they call “aerial repeating”—bouncing the signals off a helicopter circling overhead, in order to get it back to the production truck. This method was tricky and expensive to get right every time and there was a lot of trial-and-error for each venue.

“For the in-car cameras, we were using an analog system and we couldn't tolerate the multipath artifacts and dropouts we were getting,” Clay Underwood, Technology Development Manager at BSI, said. “As soon we moved to a digital solution for the in-car cameras, we were able to build a ground-based solution, because there, multipathing is not as big an issue.”

Doug Parr, BSI’s project manager and engineer in charge for INDYCAR, said the sheer number of cameras now capturing views from the track will be significant. “With four cameras per racecar, we will have 48 on-board views at Indy. Up until now, the most on-board cameras at Indy was 16. Even on a regular race day, we will have 24 cameras,” he said.

The new rear wing shot, which has never been used before in INDYCAR racing, will offer a high, wide view of the racing action around the car. The camera in the right side radiator air inlet area is only a few inches off the ground and will convey the tremendous speed of the car as race fans see the tire and suspension working under the varied race conditions at different INDYCAR tracks. The shot will also provide a unique, close-up view of the tire changes and suspension adjustments during pit stops.

BSI’s rear view mirror camera will allow audiences to see a detailed front view of the driver in-action as never captured before.

“The camera inside the mirror will provide a nice wide shot showing the driver working the wheel and using the right side paddle shifter on the back of the wheel.],” said Parr. “I think it will also show how hard physically it is to drive one of these cars.”

All four cameras will run from the car’s auxiliary electric system rather than on the former battery-based system. Using the Cosworth auxiliary power supply eliminates the use of a battery to power BSI’s equipment, so it saves space and weight in the car. Cars without on-boards will carry dummy cameras to insure consistent weighting for all the cars.