Super Bowl To Use "Virtualized Reality" Replay Technology

By ANDY LEFKOWITZ, Associated Press Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Can’t tell if your team recovered a key fumble? Want to know if the wideout got both feet in before going out of bounds?

A new technology called virtualized reality will dramatically change the way instant replays are shown. And its debut comes on a worldwide stage: Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

CBS Sports will occasionally use the technology, which features 33 cameras that can rotate around a play on the field.

For example, if the Ravens’ Ray Lewis were to make a hard tackle, viewers would feel during replays as if they were moving around the players as the bodies collide.

The technology for the camera movement was developed by the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon. Institute director and Carnegie Mellon teacher Takeo Kanade, one of the principal creators of the technology, warns this is “still very much a prototype system.”

Ken Aagaard, senior vice president of operations for CBS Sports, agrees.

“This is a very immature technology,” he said. “If we use it three or four times, we’ll be happy.”

He expects the technology to significantly improve for next year’s Super Bowl. He also expects the technology to be used for other events, including the NCAA basketball tournament and tennis’ U.S. Open.

A simpler version of virtualized reality was used in the movie “The Matrix” and commercials for The Gap clothing chain.

In the movie, multiple cameras fixed on a single point made Keanu Reeves appear to float and freeze during fight scenes. In the commercials, dancers appear to change directions while leaping.

But, in those examples, the cameras focused on a single point and seemed to move around the performers. In the Carnegie Mellon technology, the cameras will be able to turn at the same time to record, from all angles, as the players leap and run.

The cost for the hardware at this year’s Super Bowl, including 33 digital cameras, zoom lenses and pan/tilt heads, is about $600,000.

A pan/tilt head allows the camera to move in almost any direction. Kanade said finding the right mounting – not creating the technology – was his biggest challenge.

Kanade ended up going to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which supplied him with a modified robotic arm similar to ones used to build cars.

Bob Collins, a member of the institute, is a creator of the software that allows the cameras to record in sychronization. He is not a football fan but he will tape the big game on several VCRs at home.

He may be holding his breath as well.

“This is experimental until it’s done,” he said.