FA Cup Final: Tracab Optical Tracking drives experimental robotic cameras

BT Sport’s coverage of the FA Cup Final on Saturday involved a trial of compact, robotic cameras driven by ChyronHego’s Tracab optical tracking data. There were four cameras used: two high on the lighting gantry, one offering a super-wide view, the other offering a tighter angle; two more on the camera gantry, following individual players, for analytical views.

The systems used bespoke, integrated camera heads, based on large sensor camera technology and robotic automation. They are similar to hotheads, but without operators driving them, instead using the dynamic positional data of the players.

“The centre one [on the lighting gantry] is acting as a bird’s eye view-of-the-pitch tactical camera, the one to the left we’re doing a proof of concept — essentially working around the offside line/goalmouth area, and the one on the camera gantry is doing player tracking, and that can be set to be any player [using a touchscreen tablet],” explained BT Sport Innovation Producer, Daragh Bass.

“We could take that feed as a broadcaster and offer an on-demand service, or do replays off it. There are loads of case uses for that type of camera, and we do a lot of that anyway with traditional manned cameras,” he said.

“We currently have two 18-yard cameras, left and right, doing the offside lines. But Wembley is a perfect stadium. It has 40-odd camera positions; we can always fit people in. Some stadiums are harder to get that in. We have to look at seat kills or building camera platforms,” he added.

It is a particular challenge when BT Sport goes to lower league teams, and having small, unmanned systems would make a significant difference. They are also useful for a large stadium, like Wembley, where the best view of the offside line isn’t from the camera gantry, but much higher up, where they couldn’t put a manned camera. “It’s not all about cost reduction and cutting staff numbers, it’s about putting cameras where you couldn’t otherwise. There are manual controls over all of this too. You can operate it as a traditional hot head,” he said.

The Tracab system uses two camera units set about 10m apart, either side of the half-way line. Each unit has three HD cameras, to create a panoramic, stereoscopic view of the pitch, which allows the software to track all players. “Then we have an operator here [in the camera gantry] assigning targets and checking the IDs of the players to produce a live data stream going out to multiple end users, including Opta, the official data providers to the Premier League,” explained Adam Jennings, ChyronHego Jead of Operations, UK. “The next step for this is to enhance feeds by having remote robotic cameras that are following players or tracking the play,” he added.

“It’s a remarkably accurate system for tracking players,” said Bass. “There is plenty of potential for it in other aspects as well. We’re really excited about the technology.” Bass sees many opportunities for using this beyond football, mentioning trotting races in Sweden where ChyronHego already offers tracking data.

“ChyronHego has a Tracab Optical Tracking contract with the Premier League to collect all x, y and z data at 25 frames per second on every moving object on the pitch,” added Jonathan Roberts, MD ChyronHego UK. ChyronHego also works with the football leagues and teams in Germany, Sweden, Spain and Japan, as well as Major League Baseball in the US.

ChyronHego started working with robotics on baseball a couple of years ago, and “we’d been looking to create additional uses for the data for football. In the end, we’ll have a very streamlined tracking system to deliver a variety of automated camera views, and player cameras, moving between players using robotics,” explained Roberts.

The system has the benefits of providing “greater flexibility of camera positioning using a smaller footprint at a more economical price point than a traditional cameraman,” he said.

BT Sport takes a lot of data from Opta, and uses it for lower thirds 2D graphics (passes made, distance run) and for Piero, to telestrate heat maps or touch maps, to show where most of the action has been, to give greater insight into the game. At Wembley, Alston Elliot and Piero provided the HD graphics, while the UHD graphics were provided through ChyronHego’s Lyric and operated by Moov.

“The next step for us is to break down that data and look at fatigue levels in the second half, understanding what the coaches are looking at when they are making substitutions,” said Bass. Ideally, he’d like to get access to some of the tracking systems that the players wear. “Data is key to everything that is going on in sports broadcasting. It is tying in to everything at the moment.”

Roberts agrees. The leagues and federations it works with want to see the data being used beyond lower thirds. For example: “You could use the position data of the ball to create more immersive audio mixes, by using it to automate the audio,” which is something it is working on. “It blends perfectly with remote production.”

Although Tracab was launched in 2004, and its data is used extensively by all the clubs for training and analysis, “it is only now that this tracking data is finding multiple new revenue streams, as stakeholders become more aware of its potential.”

ChyronHego acquired Zxy wearable tracking two years ago and it is also working on using this to provide data to broadcasters, however, there are two challenges with wearable data: who owns the rights to it (you may have to get individual player agreement) and the ability to deliver realtime data, whereas optical tracking is non invasive and live, so it can be used with cameras or to automate sound.

“All of these things exist. It’s a matter of combining the intellectual property in a way to come up with new, innovative products,” added Roberts.


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