Bob's Adventures in Wireless and Video Headline Animator

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poor Man's ENG

ENG, Electronic News Gathering, Remote Broadcasting, Live to it what you will, it all means the same thing...Get video from a camera at a remote site back to a network so that it can be broadcast live.

Most TV broadcasters use COFDM licensed systems for their ENG. This technology, while highly reliable, generally has a short range between the camera and a truck, and a high price. If you are billing at $1 million a minute for Superbowl ads, this solution makes a lot of sense. But if you are a dad trying to broadcast the local high school football game over the Internet with a very limited budget, then you are out of luck.

Sounds easy, right? Well it is not as easy as it sounds. For over 5 years we have been working on a way to do this using low cost unlicensed wireless IP systems. HauteSpot has built video encoders that are integrated with wireless transmitters starting with our first HauteSHOT system that used MPEG-2 and 802.11 which were low resolution, jittery, and did not offer great range and continuing with our most recent systems. We have learned a lot and improved a lot.

With the advent of our new H.264 HD encoders, which support HD-SDI or HDMI input from consumer grade to professional quality cameras, we can compress video down to a stream that is small enough to squeeze through even 3G wireless links yet retain their quality. Combine this with the jitter free performance of our second generation TDMA Like Protocol (TLP), we can deliver long range, low cost, high quality video streaming from almost any location.

We are now working on combining the solutions into one compact size platform that can be camera back mounted. The end result is a system that will deliver near professional quality live to air video broadcasting at a fraction of the cost of COFDM.

So my question to you is: "What new applications for live to air video production will a low cost system like this enable?" and "Where is the best place to focus our marketing efforts for a product like this?"

Give us your feedback.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Exercise Capital Shield

Last week I was invited to participate in Exercise Capital Shield 2011 (Cap Shield), an interagency emergency management exercise conducted in the Washington DC area. The exercise brought together over 80 local, state and federal healthcare providers and emergency response agencies from throughout the National Capital Region (NCR). Cap Shield simulated large-scale disasters across multiple sites and involved the coordination of multiple jurisdictions. From patient extraction and triage at remote sites, through transportation and ultimate delivery to destination hospitals, the exercise tested the readiness for real, large scale disaster response. 

To assist in the management of the exercise, the National Capital Region Medical-Joint Task Force (JTF-CapMed) in conjunction with Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other hospitals within the area enlisted the help of Global Emergency Resources, LLC. (GER) to provide end-to-end patient tracking and situational awareness to all participants. To achieve the exercise mission, GER provided their industry leading HC Standard® patient tracking software and a complete wireless communications infrastructure. The GER solution delivered real time patient tracking data and live video between remote sites, and along the entire route, to the hospitals.
HC Standard® Mobile Patient Tracking runs on a simple to use hand held, ruggedized Motorola MC75 personal computer. First Responders in the field follow intuitive graphical prompts and use integrated bar code scanners to speed through tasks such as recording patient data, updating patient details and providing real time transportation status. Video is also captured using wireless cameras on the scene. The data and video are transmitted wirelessly using either secure cellular or wireless protocols and over highly redundant communications networks using GER’s Emergency Wireless Routing Access Point™ (EWRAP™) routers developed specifically for this purpose for GER by HauteSpot Networks.

Hospitals and Emergency Operations Centers can easily view and report on patient data in real time using intuitive, highly flexible browser based tools which can run on virtually any computer to access up to the minute patient statistics including color images, audio, and video from the incident scene. All data is provided to health care and emergency management personnel in order to allow for rapid assessment of the incident and proper allocation of critical resources. This information is stored and can be reviewed for after action reporting at any time in the future.

What was really cool was how easily everything ran. In less than 10 minutes we had every EWRAP set up with full mesh coverage and streaming video running. Even in the pouring rain, our system worked great. We did have to put plastic bags over the cameras we used, as they were not outdoor rated.
There were only two hiccups that we had during the two days of exercises:

The first was that we forgot to open the vent on the gas tank on a generator and the system stopped shortly after start up. Lesson learned...check everything three times.

The second was one EWRAP that kept having video drop due to bandwidth issues. This issue was weird, since we could see no obvious issues and we spent some time trying to figure out what was going on. What we found out was that apparently one of the military communication truck that was near by was using our open 802.11 connection to download video of the exercise because their satellite connection was too slow. We were surprised and pleased to see that a low cost EWRAP provided better communications than a very expensive comm truck on the same remote site.
We are really excited about the results of this event and expect upcoming events to go even better.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Video Streaming From Dynamic Networks

We have built a new router that is designed for emergency first responders. The router creates a mesh between other routers, and then backhauls via cellular, public safety, 802.11 or 802.16.

We have added in a number of features to maintain default gateways, manage connections, determine link quality, etc. The router is designed to require no user interaction and be fully self configuring.

We use dynamic dns to allow for remote inbound connections.

Everything works great for outbound connections from devices connected to the mesh. It is completely dynamic and works very reliably, when data connections are initiated from the local side of the network.

Our client wants to connect IP cameras for live video streaming. This is where things get interesting. We expected that we could simply set up an IP camera to use announced unicast to push video to a server. But after extensive searching we have concluded that there is no IP camera on the market that can do this. I know it is hard to believe, but it appears to be true. Every single manufacturer expects you to have a server local to the camera and pull the video to the server.

So we have to put a server local to the cameras on the mesh and then connect from the local server back to another server for broadcast. Bringing a server on scene is good in one respect that it puts a more reliable recording method closer to the video source. But not all customers want to carry around a server. Some just want to get situational awareness through video streaming back and only have minimal equipment on scene.

So we are now investigating making our own camera that is specifically designed for this type of application. When we are done we will have a great, lightweight, easy to use camera that can push video to a remote server via HauteSpot wireless routers.

Any suggestions or other ideas?