Bird’s-eye-view footage of the European Football Championship courtesy of the spidercam camera system
The European Football Championship is taking place from June 11 to July 11 this year, but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means only a fraction of the fans will be allowed to watch live in the stadium. This makes TV coverage of the event more important than ever. Fortunately enough, the company spidercam in particular is well on the ball with providing spectacular footage from across the eleven stadiums and arenas. Based in the Austrian town of Feistritz im Rosental, the company relies on PC-based control technology from Beckhoff to control and drive its cable-suspended camera.
With spidercam®, the eponymous company developed a camera robot that can move the high-tech recording device freely in all spatial directions like a remote-controlled flying object. The goal here is to achieve spectacular TV images that are recorded both close to the ground and at dizzying heights.
Potential speeds of up to 32 km/h
The unusual perspective is achieved by a cable winch system, which is attached to four masts, the ceiling, or other available fixed points to hold the camera in the required position. The system is driven by cable winches that coordinate to shorten and lengthen the cables, making it fast and nimble. In fact, speeds can even reach up to 9 m/s (32 km/h).
Fiber-optic cable transmits image data
The specially manufactured cables are made of plastic, with a fiber-optic cable woven into them to transmit the image data (up to 4K) to the ground without loss of quality. A light sag of at most 10° in the cables means that they only support the weight of the camera head or dolly; there is no pre-stressed support cable. The straight flight path that operators are looking for is created purely by the simultaneous winding and unwinding of the four motor-operated cable winches.
Exceptional safety with TwinSAFE Terminals
The cable winches are driven by Beckhoff AX5000 Servo Drives with EtherCAT interfaces and AM8000 Synchronous Servomotors. Each winch station incorporates a Beckhoff Embedded PC that uses TwinCAT to communicate with the central control unit via network variables. The spectators, production staff, actors, or athletes are usually captured overhead by the ‘flying camera’, which is why safety considerations are always given top priority. Integrated TwinSAFE Terminals ensure maximum safety, particularly at critical times such as programming or when under manual control. “We have been using Beckhoff technology in our plants for 15 years and couldn’t be happier with it,” enthuses Georg Peters, operations manager at spidercam. The Austrian company always relies on the latest products and technologies from Beckhoff.
Three-person operation required for spidercam®
In spite of the complex technology, the spidercam® is easy to use, with only three people needed to operate the camera system. While one flies the spidercam® through space using two joysticks, a second operates the camera itself. The third person is then a technician, who is also on hand to keep a constant eye on system parameters. An online display provides accurate information about the exact position of the camera at all times.
Eleven stadiums, eleven cameras
The European Championship is normally held in one or two countries; however, to celebrate UEFA’s 60th anniversary, this year’s competition is being staged as a pan-European event – from Seville to St. Petersburg, and from Glasgow to Baku. Each of the eleven stadiums is the temporary home of one of spidercam’s systems.
Also featured at the Olympics
The Austrians are certainly making their mark worldwide thanks to the spidercam®, with the cable-suspended camera capturing breathtaking footage in locations as far afield as Australia (tennis), France (tennis), the United Kingdom (cricket, soccer), Croatia (TV news), Mexico (soccer), Pakistan (cricket), India (cricket), the Republic of Korea (Mnet Asian Music Awards), and the USA (tennis). But it’s not just the world of television that is taking advantage of spidercam® systems: Several universities have been known to use the cable robot system to conduct plant research. Another system zips around a German amusement park to entertain visitors as they wait in line. Its next deployment at a major event is already set, with spidercam supplying ten cable cameras for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo (July 23 to August 8, 2021).