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How Skycam Works

How Skycam Soars
The Skycam rig is suspended over the action with reels of Kevlar-reinforced rope.
The Skycam rig is suspended over the action with reels of Kevlar-reinforced rope.
© Sam Bagnall/AMA/Corbis

The Skycam system has been used in more than 100 different arenas around the globe. It takes several people about two days to ready Skycam for a broadcast. As they work, they prepare the core pieces that make Skycam fly.

For starters, there must be four high points surrounding the action. In the case of football, these are often lighting towers on the periphery of the stadium. For non-football events, organizers must utilize other elevated points or even erect temporary platforms.

Below each of these four points are large reels loaded with coils of Kevlar-reinforced rope 0.1-inched (2.5-millimeters) in diameter. Each reel has an onboard computer controlling motors that precisely reel the thousands of feet rope in or out as needed.

These ropes spool from the reels to pulleys in the towers and then meet in a center point above the field. In the center, of course, is the suspended Skycam unit, bundled with other components in what's called the spar.

The spar weighs roughly 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) and includes a 1080i HD video camera paired with a Fujinon ZA12x4.5mm wide-angle lens, sensors for stabilization, a microphone and motors that pan and tilt the camera. The camera can pan a full 360 degrees and tilt 180 degrees for a maximum view of the action.

The spar is integrated with gyroscopic stabilizers that prevent wobbly or shaky video. So instead of a gut-churning home video look, viewers see smooth, crisp video that looks colorful and sharp on their television screens.

Video signals travel along the suspension ropes, which are coupled with optical fiber line for fast data transmission. Using this hardwired approach instead of wireless transmission means greater reliability in varied settings.

All of this connects to a central control computer. In real time, the computer controls and monitors dozens of parameters. It also accepts inputs from the pilot, who controls the camera's flight path, as well as the camera operator, who focuses, pans, tilts and otherwise makes sure that the camera is following the action and not broadcasting random shots of passing clouds.