With Help From RF Central, NYRA’s Ambo-Cam Protects Horses and Jockeys

By Carolyn Braff

Some danger is inherent in the sport of horse racing, but equipment provided by RF Central is helping lessen the threat to both horses and humans at Belmont Park. The tracks at Belmont have long been equipped with wireless cameras to provide the best view to spectators and racing officials, but those camera feeds are now being sent to in-park ambulances as well.

“For the paramedic who rides in the passenger seat of the ambulance, because of trees, bushes, hedges around the tracks and the turns, it’s hard to see an incident that might happen in front of them,” explains Robert Mohan, chief engineer of TV operations for NYRA.

For every race, an ambulance equipped to treat both horses and humans runs 150-200 yards behind the horses, but blind spots exist throughout the track. Mohan came up with the idea to create an ambulance video system” the Ambo-cam” after looking at some of RF Central’s products designed for military, aerospace, and government applications, to be used by EMTs and firefighters.

“The idea behind the Ambo-cam is for the paramedic to be able to see everything in front of them,” Mohan explains. “If there is a spill, they know exactly where to go and can actually see it happen in real time.”

During each race, Mohan’s team provides a switched feed of head-on shots, which consists exclusively of pictures of the horses moving toward the camera. That feed is used for archival purposes and is sent to the racing referees, but Mohan realized that it is also the perfect angle to feed to the track’s ambulance.

“It’s very easy to feed that into the transmitter and send that to the chase ambulance, so that they can see everything live in front of them,” Mohan says.

Seventeen Philips LDK 9 SDI digital cameras provide race coverage at the track, with six of them switched into the Ambo-cam head-on feed (the numbers vary slightly depending on whether the race takes place on the dirt track or the turf course).

For the full-camera track feed, NYRA relies on RF Central’s CMT-II camera-mounted transmitters, which work in the license-free 5.8 GHz band. The track is more than a mile and a quarter long, so ensuring a quality signal over a long range is critical.

The ambulance uses a PHT-II, basically a “CMT-II with an amplifier built in,” according to Anthony Sangiovanni, VP of RF Central’s sports and entertainment group. A PRX-II mobile receiver is mounted to the ambulance dashboard and works in the 6.4 GHz licensed band.

“In that one facility, they’re using the best of both worlds, both the license-free and the licensed channels,” Sangiovanni says. “The licensed channel allows them to use a higher-power transmitter, where they can go a little bit over a watt and it’s not a problem.”

The Ambo-cam provides the ambulance team with a better, real-time view of what’s happening on the track and also allows replays of any accidents to be routed directly to the dashboard-mounted transmitter.

“While it’s not tasteful for them to keep showing a repeat of the accident or the spill, it’s beneficial that, on this private channel, they can review all of these replays,” Sangiovanni explains. “When time is of the essence, that will give the medical team on the ambulance a very good idea of what they need to do.”

One application of the Ambo-cam was one that Mohan had not thought of when he conceived the system.

“When the track is not drivable because it’s sloppy or muddy, the ambulance sits in the back stretch so that they can get access to the track quickly, without endangering themselves by spinning out and sliding into the rail,” Mohan says. “With the Ambo-cam, even when they’re parked back there, the paramedics can see the entire race and know if there’s an issue immediately. It’s all about safety and being able to respond appropriately and quickly to any situation that develops.”

With the nation’s attention turning to Belmont Park for this Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Mohan’s system” currently the only one of its kind in the world” should certainly stir some interest in the racing community, and in other sports as well.

“Because this system is very portable, we’re able to move it between tracks very quickly,” Mohan adds. “NYRA’s trying to be a leader in the safety side of the industry, as well as the technology side.”