Robo-cams take an Olympic dive

July 18, 2012

By Wolfgang Rattay

Reuters robotic cameras will not only be hung high up at the Olympics venues but will also go underwater.

We have developed a remote-controlled “underwater photographer” that can hold its breath for the duration of the Olympic Aquatic competitions at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Let me tell you briefly about the history of Reuters underwater news photography.

In 2005, at the Montreal World Aquatic Championships, Canada chief photographer Peter Jones used the first underwater housing with the first model digital camera that could send pictures through our ftp-server installed poolside.

(Photo by Christine Muschi)

After improving our system through several European and World Aquatic Championships, we have reached the London Olympics; putting us on another level of technology that we will use to be competitive.

At first we looked into available underwater robotic heads to buy in order to save time in developing a new system.

We couldn’t find anything that would fit our underwater system requirements, that would be good for a news agency, easy to use and reliable. Please keep in mind that it takes a lot of effort to install a remote camera system underwater during the competition. You need to get a lot of permission and you have limited time to spend underwater, not to mention that our photographer has to be a qualified diver to make this installation.

We had an excellent brainstorming session that brought on board Peter with his first experience, Wolfgang with his new housing experience and Pawel Kopczynski who knows everything about robotic cameras.

In the end we decided to look beyond standard underwater photography and contacted a few off-shore and oil-platform companies to ask them how they operate underwater with their systems when it comes to pictures and videos.

Do you remember the underwater images from the oil spill off the “Deep Water Horizon” oil platform that dominated headlines after an explosion and subsequent spill?

We found an underwater engineer in northern Germany who builds a type of moving-heads for similar tasks. Believe it or not, the head you see below can withstand pressure of more than 600 atmospheric bar per square centimeter and can go to a depth of 6,000 meters. At the Olympic Stadium we will be facing a maximum pressure of 0,5 bars! We are certainly ready now to cover any upcoming underwater assignments, even in the depths of the Ocean.

That was the first step. All the testing went well and we were ready to go underwater until we realized that our old housing, superb a few years ago, was not good enough to handle the new models of cameras and the zoom mechanism.

We went back to Germany’s probably most advanced maker of professional underwater housings, who we had worked closely with on previous projects, and asked him for immediate help as we were running out of time. German precision was certainly helping us. Can you imagine that the entire project is made only through the computer, based on camera measurements and other elements? Then the file goes to a company who uses a specialized system which simply creates the housing from one piece of aluminum.

When all the pieces were in hand, the underwater system was ready for the last tests. Our Munich staff photographer Michael Dalder, who will be operating the system, spent a lot of time underwater at the local swimming pool to make sure that everything is ready to go!

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Great Job

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