Broadcast Sports Technology HD in-car cameras race for success at Indianapolis 500

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Broadcast Sports Technology, provider of in-car HD cameras for the Indianapolis 500, joined Scott Dixon in the winner’s circle as the new HD camera systems overcame some last-second challenges and delivered sharp, consistent images from this weekend’s race. “We were really happy with the results,” says Peter Larsson, BST General Manager, of a race where new approaches in both camera design and transmission paths proved successful.

HD in-car cameras made their debut last year at the Daytona 500 for NASCAR coverage on Fox Sports and ESPN but the move to Indy racing took some tweaking. Unlike NASCAR, which has a tray in the car where the transmitter and battery pack are mounted, Indy racing cars required more aerodynamic design and also had to handle more stress and vibration.

“In IRL the engine is part of the stress chassis and the in-car transmitter and battery are located only two feet away from the engine,” says Larsson. “In NASCAR it is about six to eight feet away from the engine.”

Early tests, in fact, found the stress literally shook the camera and transmission system to pieces. The use of rubber isolators prevent vibrations from getting into the camera but finding the right type of isolators to do the job took some time. While a softer isolator gives a more stable picture it won’t provide longevity to last for a three or four hour race. In fact, BST hit the track for the race without having a full test run as Friday’s “Carb Day” warm ups were shortened to four laps due to rain.

On the transmission side BST went to a ground-based system instead of a helicopter. “Once we went digital it made engineering and economic sense to go to ground-based transmission,” says Larsson. “A helicopter requires twice as much spectrum because you need to transmit the signal up and down.”

Four diversity receivers were located around the track to pull in signals at 8-10 Mbps from antennas located on the front of the cars. “We actually thought the signal would become worse when all the people got into the stands but it was actually slightly better which is kind of counter intuitive,” adds Larsson.

Larsson expects future improvements to the system to include higher data rates and better cameras than the ones designed by German research company Frauhauffer. “The cameras themselves are okay but we need to get better and smaller HD cameras,” he says. “These are getting to the end of their development cycle.”