Football fans are about to get the ultimate view of their favorite sport.
A prototype device known as the BallCam might one day enable them to see the action from the ball's point of view, providing a different perspective when a pass sails into the hands of a receiver or a punt falls into the arms of a returner. Amazingly, it would also eliminate any confusion in the image caused by the rotation of the ball, thus giving a clean, uninterrupted view from an insider vantage point.
"It's really the right time for this," Kris Kitani, a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute who co-developed the system, told Design News. "If you could watch a defender battling with a wide receiver and see the drama of that split-second action, it would be awesome from the spectator's point of view."
The BallCam is capable of editing out the spinning of the football and providing a usable image. (Source: Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute)
Indeed, the BallCam would provide viewers with an experience unlike anything that's been available previously. To create that experience, Kitani worked with visiting researchers at the Robotics Institute and from the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo. Together, they embedded a single GoPro Hero2 camera in a rubber-sheathed, plastic foam football, then wrote software to make the spinning images usable.
The software is the key, Kitani said. Because a spiraled pass from a quarterback can rotate at a surprising rate of 600 rpm, images from inside the ball would be useless without software to make sense of it all. The research team addressed that by employing techniques such as image stitching, feature extraction, and feature matching, then wrapping them together in a software package.
As a result, the BallCam is able to extract video frames that are pointing in the wrong direction, and keep those that are pointing in the correct direction. It accomplishes that by looking for the sky in every frame.
"When the camera points toward the sky, the image is really bright, and when it points down, the image is darker," Kitani told us. "So if you look at the brightness of each video frame and plot it over time, the output looks like a nice, clean sine wave."
During operation, the BallCam doesn't process the images on board. Instead, it captures 60 frames per second and then lets an off-board computer do the processing. Kitani said the team employed a MacBook Pro, but added that any notebook computer would suffice. He said the team did not write the algorithms for a parallel processing environment, but could easily do so if an application called for faster results.
To be sure, the technology faces hurdles. The camera, which is about one-third the size of an iPhone, must be covered by a clear plastic material in order to be incorporated in a football, making it impossible for it to be used officially in its current embodiment. The ability of the camera to stand up to the punishment of football is not in question, however, since the same hardware has previously been used on football helmets and spearfishing masks, as well as in the jaws of polar bears, sharks, and alligators.
For now, Kitani foresees it being employed for highlight films, training purposes, and sports science studies. It might also see use in soccer balls. "The technology is there," he said. "The cameras are durable and lightweight. You could embed multiple cameras inside a ball, transmit the images wirelessly, and create an all-new experience for spectators."
I'm sure you're right, Jack. The chances of this making it into a game are probably very slim. I think that commenter bobjengr got it right when he said this is about software that converts a chaotic video into a watchable one. Now the trick will be to figure out where else that capability can be put to use.
I think the biggest challenge is not the technical one, but the one of actually getting it into the game. I saw a TV program a bit ago about inventors. One of the guys had a laser system to replace or enhance the measurement chains. He had already gone to the NFL. They had given him a list of reasons why they weren't accepting it. On this episode, he had made the necessary changes and the show hooked him up again with their NFL contacts. He had this thing working in fog and snow and they still had no use for it. Something actually going inside the ball seems to have a lesser chance, even with proofs that it doesn't change the dynamics.
I agree with you tmash on this one. I can possibly see some use for officiating and coaching players but not much application for the fans. Instant replay, at lest for me, gives me enough information relative to the game. It is fascinating to witness how the software transforms the video. This is the only way I can see real value-added to a game.
I couldn't agree more, William K. I do admit to watching the Super Bowl every year, but I find high school football far more interesting. I live across the street from a high school football field, and every Friday night in fall I am drawn toward the lights like a moth.
All of the MANY delays in televised football are why I think that High School football games are a much better value. No delays for hardly anything. Plus, the players are not such "Prima Donnas" as a few of the bigleague stars are. And most seats are closer to the action. You don't get to actually see the players faces at any NFL games. Way to far of.
Actually, the technology's developer told me that it could be used for replays, but only after a few minutes of waiting. I don't know if impatient football fans will tolerate that. So you don't have to worry, Liz.
It just occurred to me...wouldn't having a camera in the ball now take replays to an entirely new level?? You could really see what's going on. This could open up a new can of worms (and makes football games drag on even longer! Sorry, not a fan!)
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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