Hawk-Eye Automated Camera System Makes Gains at US Open

A two-day demonstration of Sony Europe subsidiary Hawk-Eye Innovations’ automated camera system on court 17 is drawing a lot of interest from sports broadcasters from the New York City area as its functionality and reliability continue to improve.

“We’re still in the early days,” says Hawk-Eye inventor Dr. Paul Hawkins. “But it is improved from where it was two years ago. It is now completely camera-agnostic, and we have created an architecture that can scale and work with any camera or number of cameras, manned as well as unmanned cameras, and it can get tight shots.”

Hawk-Eye operator demonstrates system improvements.

Hawk-Eye operator demonstrates system improvements.

Much of the publicity around the system to date has been about its use at Wimbledon, where it was used on three courts this summer and one court in 2013. But it has also been used for cricket, a production that involved eight cameras. Simply put, the belief is that the system will soon be suitable for a wide variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, and even Olympic sports.

The core technology relies on visual-based tracking, where the user first captures a couple of clips of the players. Once the system is able to identify the player or players, it can track them as they move. One improvement is that the system can now easily track players wearing any outfit or uniform; its initial use at Wimbledon was, in part, because all the players wear white. And even if an outfit is changed, it can quickly be recalibrated with new clips.

Other improvements include the ability to adjust the sensitivity of the motion tracking as well as some forward predicting based on which direction the player is moving.

“If the player is swaying back and forth, you don’t want the camera to be swaying,” Hawkins points out.

The demonstration at the US Open involves four cameras and an operator, who uses either a keyboard or joystick to fine-tune the way the system operates or can engage it in manual mode to take over the system.

Just what role such a system will have at the Open remains to be seen, but the goal, for now, is to use it to bring television coverage to all the courts and for events like the juniors tournament, which cannot justify the investment in manned cameras and a full production team.

Sony acquired Hawk-Eye Innovations in 2011. It was founded by Dr. Paul Hawkins to provide a ball-tracking and graphics solution to enhance the broadcasting of cricket starting in 2001 followed by tennis in 2002. It was acquired by Mark Getty in 2006 before being sold to Sony.

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