Thomas Riedel, ORF’s Michael Kögler discuss skiing camera collaboration
As previously documented on SVG Europe, communications technology specialist Riedel recently joined forces with Austrian public broadcaster ORF and the International Ski Federation (FIS) to develop a bespoke wireless camera solution ahead of this year’s Alpine Skiing World Championship in Schladming, Austria.
Developed over the course of 18 months, the patented wireless camera solution, known as RiCam, is fully integrated into the goggles’ straps, allowing live images to be delivered from the perspective of the racers.
Keen to establish more detailed specifics in the wake of our existing story, we invited Michael Kögler, TV director at ORF, and Riedel Communications’ founder, Thomas Riedel, to trace the arc of a very special collaboration.
What was the starting point for the new camera solution?
Riedel: The first contact and discussion was with the FIS. We wanted to make sure that the camera solution [would be] absolutely compliant to all FIS regulations and safety requirements before we approached ORF. It was one of our major goals to develop a solution that would be accepted [in particular] by the athletes themselves. To make them feel safe with the technology was one of our prime objectives. Therefore we worked really closely with the athletes – and I think their positive reactions about the [end-result] show us how important that was.
Kögler: When the idea came up we started the cooperation with Riedel due to the fact that I already knew them from our cooperation at the twice Emmy awarded production for the Red Bull Air Race. The goal was to create a POV camera used live on a ski-racer. It needed to be very small and safe because it is not fixed to a vehicle – it is attached to a human being during the time they are competing.
How did the collaboration progress, and what are the strengths of the completed solution?
Kögler: First of all we were thinking about attaching it to the helmet, but this was the wrong [approach] due to the fact that the helmet has a lot of safety issues and you are not allowed to attach anything. Consequently, we came up with the idea of the ‘gogglecam’, which at the beginning was much too large for the athlete’s needs. Subsequently, we started to find smaller versions.
By mid-December, we found the solution for the size of the camera and created a carbon cover as found in Formula 1. [By this time] we were having intensive tests with various athletes, and these helped to deliver considerable improvements to the camera. After a test on 28 December in Austria, we realised that we [still] had to find the right angle to fix the camera, which is actually around 30 degrees. We implemented this in the carbon cover and it worked fine, going on to have its premiere during the [current] championship.
Riedel: There are different advantages. The first one is on the production side. The camera allows broadcasters to utilise POV cameras in skiing events for the first time under contest conditions. It enables exciting new live footage without jeopardising the driver’s safety or speed. Furthermore, [it facilitates] a mission critical wireless camera solution with consistent radio coverage on the entire track. In this way, the RiCam will be able to extend traditional means of sports broadcasting. [Moving ahead] one of the next steps will be to improve the video quality even further.
What has the feedback been like for the new solution?
Kögler: The product is still in its [early stages] and will for sure improve further, but it has given a mega boost to our coverage and yields a lot of fascination for the audience. I think the product could be used for [other sports] such as cycling, horse-riding, etc.
Riedel: ORF is really satisfied with this new solution. We finalised the test runs as well as the first days of the FIS Alpine World Championship with a 100% satisfaction on all sides. Could the camera be deployed at other events? Theoretically, yes, but at the moment we are focusing on the FIS event.
The current Alpine Skiing World Championship event is ongoing and due to conclude on 17 February.