Real-time vision system tracks auto races

A real-time, digital video surveillance system for international car races-including the Formula 1 series-significantly improves safety and security in a sport that often sees drivers exceeding 350 km/h.

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A real-time, digital video surveillance system for international car races-including the Formula 1 series-significantly improves safety and security in a sport that often sees drivers exceeding 350 km/h. The system, called Racetracker, combines image-processing boards from Euresys (Angleur, Belgium; and software developed by Cossilys21 (Lyon, France; It was recently installed in the control room at the Spa-Francorchamps (“Spa”) course in the Ardennes Forest, near the city of Liège, Belgium.

The video feeds come from 32 trackside cameras, which are 0.5-in. interline CCD cameras that deliver color images at 25 frames/s in PAL format. The Racetracker can handle the feeds simultaneously over a Gigabit Ethernet network, and all the feeds can be viewed live individually on 32 TV monitors in the control room above the track.

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Real-time digital surveillance system, Racetracker, uses 32 cameras to monitor a Formula 1 auto race at Spa-Francorchamps. The system has eight Euresys Picolo Tetra-X frame grabbers and a Cossilys21 version of ICARE image-processing software to provide race stewards with multiple synchronized views of the racecourse.
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Because of its server/client architecture, Racetracker offers the stewards monitoring the race a user interface that can display the images from any selected camera or from several cameras organized in mosaic. They can review almost instantly any event while live recording continues to hard disk to avoid missing other incidents. The Ractracker setup replaces Spa’s previous monitoring system, which relied on banks of separate VCRs. This had several limitations, notably the three-hour span of each cassette, the problem of stopping recording on a given channel if a tape of an incident on the track had to be reviewed immediately, and space needed to store many videocassettes for archive.

In this year’s Grand Prix, only 11 drivers completed the 307-km course out of the 20 who started. There were several spectacular crashes but no serious injuries. Joël Harhellier, technical manager for video surveillance at Euresys, says, “Racetracker captured various key incidents missed by both Spa’s previous video system and the separate mobile video monitoring system of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

To date, only the Spa racetrack has bought the Racetracker system, but Euresys’ development partner Cossilys21 says it has received considerable interest from at least 10 other Grand Prix circuits. Pierre Delettre, race director at Spa, says, “The Racetracker system has already made a big difference. When we used to have incidents on the track we would not have enough time to inspect the videotapes in real time to assess problems. Furthermore, if we took a tape off-line to make an assessment, then that camera would not be recording until the tape was replaced.

“We are experimenting with tarmac runoffs [instead of grass or gravel, to improve safety and cut damage] and painting some areas green that are forbidden to drivers,” continues Delettre. “If drivers go over these areas, their details will be recorded and they will receive a time penalty. This verification is automated by inserting on the image motion sensors to figure the lines the drivers cannot cross.” The image-management system is based on eight Euresys Picolo Tetra-X frame grabbers. PAL signals from the 32 trackside cameras feed into the boards from a combination of coaxial and fiberoptic links, depending on the remoteness of the camera.

The analog signals consist of 768 × 576-pixel images, delivered at 25 frames/s. Each frame grabber receives video signals from four cameras and converts them from analog to digital in real time. Racetracker is equipped with eight frame grabbers leading to 32 cameras sending video signals to be digitized and stored simultaneously on a RAID-5 storage-area network.

The Picolo Tetra-X is a PCI-X-compliant system, which features a large data bus to transfer images into the PC’s memory. Euresys’ Harhellier says he does not know of a competing system that offers a comparable data-transfer capability. “We offer full bandwidth, full-size image transfer and the capability to digitize it in real time. The limiting factor in this arrangement is the camera quality.”

Because each card deals with four parallel signals, digital information from four sources cannot be imported through a conventional 32-bit, 33-MHz PCI bus. “We have broadened the data path so that it functions as a 64-bit, 133-MHz PCI-X bus,” says Harhellier. “So there is plenty of space to bring all of the data from the four sources into the PC’s memory.”

Software drivers designed for standard video-surveillance ASICs often make a quality compromise to maximize the number of camera channels at the expense of the frame rate. The Euresys video surveillance frame grabbers is based on standard components primarily designed for broadcast and for single-source processing. Therefore, Euresys has adapted the source management such that four different signals are multiplexed in minimum time.

Racetrack surveillance requires live image delivery, and the 25-frames/s speed corresponds to the human eye’s perception. But if the surveillance of the system is extended to the spectators or access entrances, then the facility for switching between several cameras across one source will be ideal, allowing for spare capacity and expansion without eating up storage space.

Alain Ghaye, commercial director at Cossilys21, says, “When we received the demand for the track solution at Spa, we knew that Euresys had developed the Tetra-X board with its four analog/digital converters so we knew we could work together to develop some software to complement the board.” The software is based on the Cossilys21 Icare image-processing software package.

“We have now contacted 300 racing circuits worldwide through the circuit at Spa, and we have so far received 10 inquiries,” Ghaye adds. “For different applications we can adapt the software. We believe that there could also be security applications in the casino industry.”

Matthew Peach European Contributing Editor

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