Robotic Camera Systems Update

  • With David Kirk

Robotic Camera Systems Update

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

Product refinement in the robotic camera category continues to be fast and furious. This article looks at key developments seen over the past year, notably ongoing advances in automated camera tracking.

Canon's CR-S700R robotic camera system 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."

Ikegami's R2 Real Remote production system is designed to allow efficient remote camera operation between the studio and the sub-control room as well as ensuring social distancing and studio crowd avoidance when necessary to guard against infection, particularly in close-up sequences. It is intended for use with cameras such as the compact full broadcast quality UHD/HD Ikegami UHL-43. Support is provided by a six-axis programmable articulated robot arm mounted on a motorised pedestal. This combination allows fast and easy changes in camera height from a minimum of 400mm to a maximum of 2,350mm above floor level. Integral automation enables high-speed dynamic camera motion to be achieved with the R2. Individual or simultaneous changes in the angle of view can be captured live and stored as a preset. Camera and support movements can be reproduced directly from stored memory, overcoming traditional limitations in terms of operator skill. Multi-vector motion sequences can be achieved smoothly, quietly and fully remotely under intuitive timeline-based control. Forward, backward, sideways and height parameters can all be rehearsed, stored and adjusted, including bird's-eye views. Motion data can be entered via a combination of graphic user interface and real-time or recordable joystick control. A viewfinder in the GUI displays the incoming video. Occupying 1,100mm in pedestal width and depth, the R2 is much more compact than a traditional studio crane and can be relocated easily from one studio to another.

Mo-Sys Engineering's new motorised rail, MoRail, has been developed to enable creative pan/tilt/zoom and ENG camera movement within newsroom and sports broadcast environments. It is available in 3 metre lengths, either straight or with a 30-degree 4 metre fixed radius curve). Up to two lengths can be joined together. It is intended for use with cameras of up to 15kg weight and can create shots which orbit the presenter and produce controlled parallax movement. "With the introduction of MoRail, we are opening the doors to a new level of creativity with PTZ cameras that has not been possible before," says Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys. "Production teams can now benefit from accurate and repeatable PTZ movement as well as smooth and immersive parallax movement, helping even small news operations to create more immersive and engaging content." Included in the MoRail package is a Mo-Sys controller which allows the camera plane to be moved between 1025mm and 1725mm height in addition to pan, tilt, zoom, focus and iris.

MRMC has revamped its Polymotion Chat automated camera control software to provide new tiered access points. Polymotion Chat Studio and Polymotion Chat Broadcast, plus the entry level Polymotion Chat Pro, now provide a range of options covering use cases from the live events sector up to broadcast, and up to six camera operation. Polymotion Chat can auto-track subjects using PTZ cameras or robotic pan/tilt heads. The system is always available and allows a single operator to manage multiple cameras. Polymotion Chat Studio is aimed at studios, live production and large corporate productions. It provides support for MRMC and many third-party robotic heads, including PTZ cameras. Advanced tracking and framing capability allows it to track multiple people across multiple cameras. It can be used either as a fully autonomous system with no operator or ensuring a shot is ready for a single operator to make minor changes. Facial recognition allows automated presets to be used. Polymotion Chat Broadcast adds presenter profiles, tighter integration into studio automation, scene recognition, and advanced sequencing for executing pre-defined camera moves.

"Broadcasters and professional users all over the world are facing the increasing challenges of producing more content with less, with the importance of maintaining schedules in the face of socially-distanced production protocols throwing workflows into stark relief," MRMC head of broadcast Paddy Taylor summarises. By providing advanced automation tools that faithfully replicate the naturalistic moves and skilled awareness of experienced camera operators, Polymotion Chat dramatically increases production efficiencies and allows a single operator to run multiple cameras in a Covid-secure manner."

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 recently acquired Spidercam, specialist in broadcast cable camera systems. The Spidercam system is suspended on four cables with winches that navigate a camera dolly in 3D space using a stabilised head. "By incorporating a five-axis gyro-stabilised dolly and remote head, Spidercam is able to provide clear, shake-free images," comments Karen Walker, Ross Video's VP of Camera Motion Systems. "A smaller system, Spidercam LIGHT, has a three-axis gyro stabilised remote head with active roll axis and endless pan. The company also has solutions for indoor production environments including studios. Live event producers can expect Ross to unlock further potential in this technology by integrating our camera systems and services into a highly innovative, true end-to-end live production company - a process we have already begun. Offering UHD camera packages and integrated, accurate tracking data, Spidercam enables integration with Ross graphics and render engines as well as third-party render sets. There’s the option to add a teleprompter and microphone for in-field/venue interviews too. We’ve also been working together producing live augmented reality." 

Shotoku continues to innovate with new products and new features being added to the range throughout 2022 and set to continue into 2023. "Demand for robotic camera systems remains as strong as ever, arguably increased since the pandemic," says Shotoku UK Managing Director James Eddershaw. "Earlier in 2022 we launched the new TG-47 pan and tilt head, aimed at mid-sized payloads and especially towards ceiling mounted rail systems. Almost any application where local manual operation is not required yet a teleprompter of useable size is necessary. When used with a ceiling mounted SmartRail, the TG-47 gives the perfect balance between a good-sized payload yet is lightweight itself which makes installation easier.

"Our TI-11X Elevator pedestal is designed for applications requiring high-quality on-air height movement but where a traditional pneumatically balanced manual pedestal is not necessary. Its compact and highly stable three-wheel design ensures great on-air shots at all times and is easily manoeuvred using the integral handle and adjustable cable guards. All 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 our other elevator control options including the TI-11 simple elevator pedestal and TI-12 bolt-on precision height drive for manual pedestals. 

"Like all our products, the TI-11X is fully compatible with VR/AR applications. With a total payload of 90kg, the pedestal is ideal 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 another new Shotoku development called Absolute Locating System or AL-S. 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. This enables a cost effective solution for VR/AR studios where the TI-11X may be repositioned off-air between programme segments and the VR system is updated with the new precise floor position just a few seconds after relocating - ready to begin the next segment, on air - using pan/tilt/zoom/focus and height tracking only. This saves the cost of a high-end realtime XY tracked solution when this may not always be necessary."

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 (sub frame delay of 7 milliseconds) ensure the reliability of exact pedestal movements. The European Union has mandated that populated spaces, such as production studios, must use low voltage DC power for health and safety reasons."