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."
As if football fans need even another view of the game with all the different angles available to them already! Still, this is pretty cool. I'm personally not a football fan but I can see how it would be helpful during training and perhaps eventually something that could give fans another view of play. It certainly would be quite interesting to watch what happens to the ball during a game, given that it's the central focus! What will they think of next?
I always get the feeling that football game broadcast technology, such as the VR line markers on the field and Skycam footage, is pushed by Video Game visualizations such as EA Sports Madden NFL. I suggest these kids at CMU would do themselves a favor if they talked up their colleagues in Video Game development and had the BallCam coded into Madden NFL 2014. Instant demand. =]
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!)
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.
Interesting article. I would really be excited about this possibility except that the NFL already has those video cameras on the wires over the field. That technology provides some great views of the action, and I wish basketball venues would go that way as well. The BallCam does offer a chance for close-up action that is unprecedented, although getting the design win could be a bit of a challenge.
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'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 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.
the camera they used seems enormous; especially considering the size of smartphone or eyewear cams.
Not sure why they mounted it on the side of the football. Seems to me it would be much better to have a cam mounted on each end - hidden in the point of the ball. Plus it would be easier to mantain the key physical characteristics of the ball.
Perhaps with the right positional sensors and algorithms, you could "unspin" the spin to view smooth tragectories toward and away from the quarterback.
I agree, placing the camera at the end of the ball would create a better view and allow the ball to be better balanced. Then you could process the video in real-time using gyro and accelerometer data to keep the picture rotated level to the ground plane - hence smoother video without the dropped frames. Having cameras at both ends allows the ball to be thrown either direction plus adds further weight symmetry.
It would be interesting to know the capture rate of the camera used. At 30 fps, the ball would be rotating about 90 to 120 degrees per frame capture, depending on the speed of the spiral. That would mean that of the 4 to 5 frames taken per revolution, only 1 or 2 of them would be pointed in a direction where they would provide usable data to be stitched together. That would probably leave an effective fps of between 7.5 to 15, definitely choppy compared to what we expect from our NFL broadcasts. However, increasing the frame rate to 120 fps, while it would certainly provide more usable frame captures per revolution, the amount of data would be greatly increased.
Just supposing that there probably is a sweet spot based on the present technology. My opinion is that the video quality is certainly good enough for now to determine what, if any, uses this might have in the future. Details about camera placement and fps will work themselves out, depending on the future demand for the product.
I would suspect that you wouldn't find many players throwing these balls into the stands anymore.
The Hero3 does 120 fps already... in 720p... a very cheap consumer level solution.
You could EASILY double or triple that framerate for a commercial application. It could probably stitch the data inside the ball in real time, and transmit LIVE for that matter... it might even calculate "tweens" on the fly and insert that into the datastream.
As there is no "practical application" for the entire sport of football, then it's probably the perfect fit :) Practical application is not necessary in any multi-billion dollar industry that has no practical basis in the first place.
But for any circumstance where uncontrolled changes of orientation occur, all this really is about is image stabilization, and in that sense, image stabilization is a significant issue already.
It's now standard in most video cameras.
But let's say that you had a tumbling spacecraft approaching a planet surface. You could spend millions stabilizing the craft... or you could simply let it tumble. If you wanted to image the surface on the way down and perhaps make a terrain map for later exploration... a fast camera and some software is a much cheaper and lighter way to go.
A camera in a bullet might allow the bullet be visually guided.
Anti-tank bombs that spin for stability could use it for visual targeting.
Remotely operated flying vehicles that don't require a stable body become practical (imagine rotors fixed to a cylindrical payload... no bearings or rotation)
Well, while we are talking practical applications in unecessary events such as sports, why in the world do we not use technology to accurately and consistently call strikes in baseball? Obviously, that technology has existed for decades and hasn't been used either. And, yet we have "instant" replay in football?
And, I apologize for not getting down to the part that contained the 60 fps. I think I saw the video and the bright, shiny video caught my eye.
The main reason I LIKE soccer and DESPISE baseball, football, basketball is the continuous replays, standing around of the players, talking (yelling) of the coaches, measuring the lines, etc. that manage to turn a 15 minute game into a 2 hours of mind numbing boredome.
Now they will have even more things to replays (from the in-ball camera) to show us to make the game even more boring.
I can only pray that NO govt. money was spent developing this.
You're right, bkcTN. The technology for calling balls and strikes is available right now. Baseball is a little more stodgy about change, though. It would probably take an act of Congress to get the MLB to make that kind of change.
Can you immagine the impact from watching the kickers foot come at the ball at the kickoff, or for the extra point?Suddenly this huge foot approaches and then WHAM! Probably a few couch potato injuries from that image.
Another intersting thing about kickoffs, William K, is that the researchers said they would need two cameras inside the ball instead of one. Evidently, the end-over-end motion of a kickoff is too much for one camera to handle.
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.
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.
Eric Doster of iFixit talks about the most surprising aspect of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 teardown. In a presentation at Medical Design & Manufacturing Midwest, iFixit gave the Surface Pro 3 a score of one (out of a possible 10) for repairability.
Time was when a talented driver with a manual transmission could beat any car with an automatic transmission in a straight-line race. No more, though. In tests at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds near Detroit, the 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06 equipped with an automatic has turned 0-60 mph times of 2.95 seconds, making it about a quarter of a second faster than the same vehicle with a manual trans.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.