Robotics enables dynamic new views of live sporting events

One of the many advantages of robots is that they can go places humans physically cannot. We often think of that in terms of search-and-rescue situations or hazardous locales like nuclear power plants (where snake-like robots have shown potential), but it has less serious applications as well — like getting the perfect view of an Andy Murray tennis serve.

Mark Roberts Motion Control, a UK-based developer of motion control systems for film and television, recently partnered with Nikon to test a new fast-action robotic photography system at last week’s Wimbledon tennis tournament. British sports photographer Bob Martin was among the first to utilize the technology.

The system used Nikon digital SLR cameras mounted on robotic heads located in normally inaccessible locations like the roof above Centre Court. According to MRMC, each camera was controlled by a photographer from a remote location with a latency of less than 0.1 seconds.

The partnership has been ongoing since the start of the London Olympics. Since that time, the companies have been working with Martin and leading photo agencies to get more from existing robotics systems, according to James Banfield of Nikon UK. Banfield notes that while the system was designed to support sports photographers and allow them to track fast-moving subjects, the technology is widely applicable and its uses will ultimately be dictated by the company’s customers.

In addition to the new robotic setups, MRMC’s Polycam technology was also used during the event. That system, which was introduced last year and now comes in three configurations, uses software to allow multiple robotic heads to automatically track a single (or multiple) subjects, simultaneously capturing the action from a variety of angles. You can view a video of Polycam Velocity — the version optimized for racetracks —  in action below.

[ photo courtesy of Mark Roberts Motion Control ]