For fans of fast-moving sports like squash, raquetball or table tennis, Japanese engineers can take you even closer to the action with a camera system that can track even the fastest moving objects. It won't be deployed during the Olympic Games but may well be ready for its close-up in 2016.
TOKYO, JAPAN (JULY 23, 2012) (REUTERS) - Table tennis is one of the fastest ball sports in the world. World class players regularly smash the ball at speeds of up to 65 mph. For cameraman attempting to follow the action in televised tournaments, the options are limited. They can zoom into the players, but never onto the ball itself as it's batted back and forth across the table, simply because it travels too fast.
Soon however, ball speed will present no problem, thanks to a new camera-tracking system devised by scientists at the Ishikawa Oku Laboratory at Tokyo University.
The 1ms Auto Pan-Tilt system uses small mirrors to follow moving objects close-up and keep them in the centre of the frame. The camera itself remains stationary but two mirrors attached to adjustable high-speed motors and placed in its line of sight are able to follow the object based on its pre-programmed colour. The camera records the action at 1000 frames per second.
Assistant Professor Hiromasa Oku says the mirrors do a far better job at high speed, close-up tracking than is possible with a conventional camera
"This machine is for movements where it's actually close to impossible for human beings to follow and this allows the system to automatically track it and follow it in cases where it would be hard for a human to do so," he said.
The mirrors have up to 60 degrees of movement and, while for now it is limited to tracking balls with a clear colour contrast with their background, Oku says he hopes to refine the system for other sports.
"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 said.
The tracking system even converts video sequences to extreme slow motion, opening potential opportunities for nature photographers filming birds and insects in flight. Oku says they want to be able to track anything that moves faster than they eye can follow.