Robotic Camera Systems

  • With David Kirk

Robotic Camera Systems

Contributing Editor David Kirk gives us an update on some of the latest developments within robotic camera systems...

Remotely controlled cameras have revolutionised studio and sports-OB production over the past 20 years, allowing images to be captured safely and efficiently from practically any location. This short article looks at the latest cameras and motorised supports from some of the leading manufacturers, including automated tracking devices which are gradually gaining customer acceptance.

Advanced Image Robotics describes its AIR One as the first professional video production platform designed for OTT live streaming: a cloud-native cinematic camera unit small enough to fit under an airplane seat, light enough to mount high and quick to set up. The camera module has a 4/3 inch 4K CMOS sensor with up to 16 stops dynamic range plus a Panasonic 14-140 lens and allows 12-bit ProRes RAW online storage. Pan, tilt and zoom can be touchscreen-controlled from an Apple iPad using an included app.

Canon's CR-S700R robotic camera allows still images to be captured from unusual viewpoints. It is based on a remote pan head which can be used to control a compatible EOS camera. The system includes the CR-G100 IP camera controller. Optional CR-A100 software can be used to control multiple cameras from a PC, display live view images, remotely trigger a camera or simultaneously shoot with multiple cameras. Turning radius is approximately 26cm. The CR-G100 IP camera controller connects to a PC for remote operation using an Ethernet LAN cable. "The remote pan head allows operations such as zooming, panning, tilting and rolling," says Canon's European Product Marketing Manager, Ryan Kamata. "It can also be used to follow subjects that move at high speed."

Egripment describes its DigiLite as an easy-to-use robotics system offering quick set up, easy cabling and remote IP control via a simple user interface. "One of many advantages of DigiLite is the time needed to set up and configuring the heads for control," says CEO Philippe Tresfon.

"Controlling the remote heads over just one IP cable centralised to a wall-box, for example, saves a lot of time in running cables for complex events such as sports. DigiLite systems can be set up and operated by anyone in the field, from camera guys to camera assistants. For cabling and signal output, you can use SIP trunking to hitchhike on fibre. The data signal from the remote head enters the SIP trunk of the camera and exits at the base station near the OB truck. Up to eight camera heads can be operated via our new and improved Multi Control Box or control a single head directly using our PanBar MkII system."

Electric Friends introduced two new robotic camera elevators at IBC2023: the E4S standalone elevator and the TE4 trolley elevator, both designed for use with PTZ cameras or motorised pan/tilt heads. “With the Trolley-Elevator, we've taken everything great about our renowned trolley solution running on our renowned flush floor tracks and added the capability to lift PTZs, making it a perfect fit,” says CEO John Kjellevold. “Crafted for fluid camera operations, the new robotic elevators feature automatic tower elevation and movement. Customers can choose between the two models, complemented by the ability to use flush floor tracks ensuring the smoothest broadcast shots and studio safety. Advanced camera control our AC2PTZ software fine-tunes shooting angles, image framing and automatic camera shots. The system integrates with studio automation systems like Viz Mosart.”

Ikegami’s UHL-43 is a compact multi-purpose UHD box camera. The UHL-43HD is a cost-effective HD sister version in the same chassis with a similar feature set but limited to HD frame rates (1080i/p and 720p). It can be upgraded to the UHD format by simply adding the UHD software key. Both models are designed and built for use as studio robotic camera, jib and Steadycam camera, traffic or weather camera plus a wide range of surveillance applications. Both incorporate the latest 2/3-inch CMOS sensors with 3840 x 2160 pixel UHD resolution, mounted on an optical prism block for RGB colour separation, ensuring low aliasing and moiré effects compared to a single-chip solution with Bayer-pattern. The UHL-43 and UHL-43HD allow true HDR shooting by using HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma). PQ and S-LOG OETF (opto-electronic transfer function) settings are available on request. ITU-R BT.2020 WCG is also supported. For high quality HDR capture, the UHL-43 and UHL43HD are equipped with a servo-controlled five-position dual filter wheel. Individual control of the incoming light by ND-filters is possible and the colour temperature can be controlled by the second filter wheel offering 3200K, 4300K and 6300K compensation filters. A standard Cross filter is included plus a free position for an optional effect filter or an additional optical low-pass filter to more effectively reduce moiré and aliasing artifacts. “The new-generation three-CMOS sensor features a high sensitivity (F=11/2000 lux @ 50p) both for HD and UHD resolution, combined with a very low noise,” adds Ikegami Europe’s Gisbert Hochguertel. “The signal-to-noise ratio is 62dB in HD and UHD modes, providing superb noise-free pictures, even if gain-up positions are employed. The integral Ethernet interface allows easy control from practically any distance, making the camera ideal for remotely supervised OB production.”

multiCAM's Tracker software combines multiple tracking data (FreeD) to create virtual camera single tracking data for augmented reality and xR processors. It allows operators and integrators to manage offsets and calibration outside the processor. A 3D viewer and graph log are included. "Our aim is to allow broadcast organisations to achieve more on lower budgets without requiring a lot of technical experience," says CEO Stan Walbert.

Ross Video’s Spidercam modular robotic camera systems are designed to operate from a cable-driven web. “The Spidercam X Dolly inherits its adaptability from its predecessor and further improves on a variety of features to increase creative possibilities from live event coverage and TV shows to feature films,” says Karen Walker, Ross Video’s VP of Camera Motion Systems. 

“Offering a higher payload capacity, more battery options and cleared for higher speeds, it can use a range of gimbals and broadcast cameras and reach a top speed of up to six metres per second. The smooth and responsive control system allows users to capture fast-moving actions with ease and precision.” Ross Video’s Furio+ StableTrac are designed to provide the stability of a four-wheeled dolly but with the consistent traction of a three-wheeled system. By mounting the two-wheel sets on one side of the dolly, on a vertically pivoting arm, the new design ensures that all four corners stay in solid contact with the rails, especially in environments with uneven track surfaces. It also ensures that the drive wheel never loses traction. The StableTrac arm is positioned on one side of the Furio Dolly and allows the wheels on the same side to pivot vertically around the central bearing, whilst the wheels on the other side remain fixed. Ross Vision[Ai]ry Facial Tracking (Ft) uses video analytics to detect, locate and track the position of faces within the video stream directly from a camera. These facial positions drive the pan, tilt and zoom axes of the robotic camera system to maintain the desired framing of the face or faces in the image. This eliminates the need for a camera operator to manually adjust the position of the subject in the image. New features include a multi-channel interface, enhanced tracking capabilities, multi-engine support and an auto-reselect feature. The multi-channel interface view offers a configurable grid for up to six channel previews, with each pane providing access to functions such as tracking mode and subject selection. Auto-Reselect allows users to continue searching in automatic subject selection mode after a subject is lost, with an option to set the time before declaring a subject lost. Version 1.3 is designed to provide users with improved workflows, high-quality tracking, and better framing. Key features include a unique multi-channel interface, enhanced tracking capabilities, multi-engine support, and an auto-reselect feature.

Shotoku’s TG-47 pan and tilt head is designed for use with mid-sized payloads, especially on ceiling mounted rail systems such as SmartRail.

The TI-11X Elevator pedestal is designed for applications requiring smooth on-air height movement but where a traditional pneumatically balanced manual pedestal is not necessary. Its is a three-wheel design which can be manoeuvred using the integral handle and adjustable cable guards. Power and control electronics are contained within the base and connections to the head are provided via the integrated cable management chain to create a neat, compact overall package.

The TI-11X complements Shotoku’s other elevator control options including the TI-11 elevator pedestal and TI-12 bolt-on height drive for manual pedestals. With a total payload of 90kg, the pedestal is suitable for use with the TG-18i pan and tilt head or the smaller TG-27 and TG-47 heads if the camera payload is smaller and no manual operation is required.

The TI-11X is compatible with Shotoku’s Absolute Locating System. A simplified MoSys StarTracker optical tracking systems is integrated into the TG-18iVR head providing regular (but non-realtime) updates on the TI-11X pedestal's X-Y floor location. 

Stype offers a range of products including the RedSpy camera tracking system, StypeKit bolt-on mechanical tracking kit for camera cranes and the Follower motion capture system. StypeKit is a bolt-on mechanical camera tracking system for various industry-standard camera crane brands. It allows existing cranes to be retrofitted and transformed into virtual production cranes. Each StypeKit consists of sensors which are mounted on the crane itself. No external sensors, markers or reference points are needed. The system bolts onto key points of cranes, allowing use on different cranes within the same day.

All the components fit into carry-on plane luggage. StypeKit is claimed to work with all rendering engines currently available on the market. Stype camera trackers use lens calibration within the control console. An automatic aiming and focusing feature allows a crane operator to let go of the joystick and just swing the crane arm. Follower is a motion capture system for film and live broadcasts that tracks cameras, objects and talent simultaneously. A Follower setup consists of four or more infrared witness cameras positioned around the studio and up to 1,000 LED beacons that can be tracked. The system tracks the position and orientation of these beacons to enable functions such as camera tracking or to attach graphics in real-time. Follower’s LED beacons emit unique light patterns or solid light so each beacon is unmistakably identified. The system integrates easily with rendering processors from third-party vendors. Follower’s camera tracking functionality is achieved by attaching Stype Spyder modules to each studio camera. Follower Pen allows and operator to draw three-dimensional images in mid-air, in real-time. MiniBeacon allows live interaction with your 3D drawings by using Bluetooth technology to communicate with a phone or tablet.

Telemetrics has introduced a wireless video transmission and battery system for its OmniGlide Robotic Roving Platform that allows users to move the OmniGlide studio camera pedestal freely and avoid obstacles practically anywhere in the studio without cables. "Being able to move the rover anywhere without worrying about cables getting caught on a set piece or having a dedicated person physically managing the cables, is a big step forward for roving pedestals," comments Michael Cuomo, VP of Telemetrics.

"Eliminating the cable loop attached to the rover further enhances our AI features such as path planning and collision avoidance. The new option for the OmniGlide consists of a field-proven wireless transmitter and battery system configured to the rover’s specifications, while maintaining the rover’s aesthetics and precise, preprogrammed or manual movements. Going wireless with the rover still provides the same functionality customers are used to, including camera power and control, teleprompter power and video, confidence monitor power and video and full robotic control. Also, at any time, the system can run on a standard cable loop providing a full backup solution. The wireless system is designed so that OmniGlides currently in the field can be upgraded to support wireless. The lithium-ion battery DC power source provides a long run time and is fully rechargeable, making it ideal for long studio projects. Users can shoot a production all day on battery power and then recharge overnight to be ready for the next day. The wireless transmitter’s robust features and low latency ensure the reliability of exact pedestal movements.”

XD Motion recently expanded its established automation and robotics system with the introduction of the Arcam 20, a new addition that builds on the success of the Arcam 10E. “The Arcam / IO.BOT system is known for its seamless integration and ease of use in any production setting,” says Benoit Dentan, CEO of XD Motion. “The IO.BOT software, our centralized control system solution, allows a single operator to manage up to 16 robotic instances such as Arcam robots, dollies, towers and multiple PTZs. In addition to allowing automated and manual control, the XD motion system also interface with third party control systems. The Arcam 20 further strengthens the system by providing an upgrade in terms of payload and reach compared to the Arcam 10. The Arcam can be set on a pedestal, ceiling-mounted, or paired with motion control dolly track systems.” “The demand for content is creating tighter timelines and demands on production teams and spaces,” adds Andrew Gordon, CCO of XD Motion. “Automation is becoming essential. A noteworthy aspect of the Arcam / IO.BOT system is its readiness for augmented reality and virtual reality applications. Using the FreeD protocol, the system ensures high data precision and is AR/VR ready without the need for complicated setups and rigs. This simplifies the process for broadcasters and ensures a smooth transition into immersive content creation.”