July 29 - For fans of fast-moving sports like squash, raquetball or table tennis, Japanese engineers can take you closer to the action with a camera system that tracks even the fastest moving objects. It won't be deployed during these Olympic Games but the system may well be ready for its close-up in 2016. Rob Muir reports.
Table tennis is one of the world's fastest ball sports. Competition players regularly hit the ball at speeds too fast for broadcast camera operators to follow...until now. Tokyo University's Auto Pan-Tilt camera system is designed to keep the ball in the centre of the frame throughout the entire game. Recording sequences at 1000 frames per second, it can then play them back in slow motion, providing a new perspective for viewers. SOUNDBITE: UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND DOCTOR OF ENGINEERING HIROMASA OKU SAYING: "This machine is for movements where it's actually close to impossible for human beings to follow. The system automatically tracks and follows objects in cases where it would be hard for a human to do so." Doctor of engineering Hiromasa Oku helped design the sytem. It consists of a stationary camera and two mirrors attached to adjustable high-speed motors placed in the camera's line of sight. But rather than tracking the object itself, the mirrors follows its colour, pre-programmed into a computer, against a contrasting background. SOUNDBITE: UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND DOCTOR OF ENGINEERING HIROMASA OKU SAYING: "In general, as long as there is some sort of difference in color, then it can be tracked. So we can track something like a yellow tennis ball, and in the future we hope to be able to track soccer balls and the like as well." Oku also sees potential for the camera in nature photography...filming birds and insects in flight for example, or anything, he says that moves faster than the naked eye can follow. Rob Muir, Reuters.