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A High-flying Audiovisual Backbone, Part 1

Oct 12, 2010 12:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor's note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes Timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the Timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Roaring planes, a huge crowd, and excitement building faster than g-forces in a tight turn: the Red Bull Air Race with live video and sound right from the cockpits. Riedel Communications set up sound, video, communications, and data for this huge event, and Thomas Riedel is here to tell us how they pulled it off and got the IBC Innovation Award.

Thomas, thanks very much for being with me here on the SVC podcast. Riedel Communications is just back from IBC in Amsterdam, and I understand your luggage was a little heavier on the return trip. What did you bring back with you?
Thomas Riedel:
Well, we are very proud that we got the IBC innovation award this year, which was really unexpected, and well, that was heavy! [Timestamp: 1:09]

In more ways than one! And Riedel got the IBC innovation award for your setup and support of the Red Bull Air Race.
Yeah, we've been the supplier, official supplier, for the Red Bull Air Race for quite some services, but this really—this award is for the signal distribution with our MediorNet product line at the show. [Timestamp: 1:32]

A huge job. This thing occurs over such a wide area, just the logistics of getting everything there and set up. Not to mention all the planning that had to go into it. And it's always great to have people in the business who know enough about the behind the scenes technical work to be able to appreciate everything you did for this. What all did you provide for the Red Bull Air Race?
Well on one hand it's about all the communications infrastructure. This includes intercom systems, radio systems, but all kind of IT stuff as well. On top of that, everything which is RF, so radio signals, is our topic as well. So not just the walkie-talkies, but also all kind of point-to-point video links, wireless cameras, as well as the onboard systems on the plane. And the third area of our work, basically, it's about the signal distribution—making sure that all areas of the event are connected on fiber and have the signals they need and can send also their signals, which is based on our MediorNet product portfolio. [Timestamp: 2:35]

And you mentioned that you've been doing this for quite some time for this show, but you actually changed some things about the way you set up the show this time, bringing in your MediorNet system.
Well, really we did it with a fiber product more on a point-to-point basis how it usually fiber infrastructured are pulled in. But since we are the inventor and manufacturer of MediorNet, we really felt we should use that product. And it was a really a big advantage, a big saving in time and cabling and all other efforts. [Timestamp: 3:06]

And not possibly a more high-profile show to be having your MediorNet technology used on and actually proving itself. You can't get much more high-profile than Manhattan right over the Hudson River, with several miles of race course and thousands of people lining both shore lines.
Yeah, exactly. It's not just one event it's a whole series which really starts in Abu Dhabi, then it went to Australia, Brazil, Canada, then to the U.S., and the last race this season was in Germany, so it's a whole series of shows. And over the years, in some locations, we have had a million-plus spectators—so really lots of people. [Timestamp: 3:48]

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And you've got to go into some areas that are pretty challenging. Most events at least take place on solid ground. You've got a lot of people and a huge load of equipment. How did you go about getting all that in there? What's involved in getting all the physical components in place?
Since this is all over the globe, you can't put it on trucks—that's why it's on aircraft containers. And we have bought 10 of these containers, which basically are shipped together with all the other equipment, including the aircraft itself, basically in large aircrafts for full transportation. [Timestamp: 4:22]

I've seen this show several times, and as a former aircraft owner myself, this really fascinates me in terms of the cameras that you have live on the planes, in the cockpits, and some are mounted right on the leading edge of vertical stabilizers, showing the whole top of the plane in flight. And anybody who has seen the Red Bull Air Races is familiar with this. What type of cameras were used on that, and how did you install those? That would seem to me to be something that would require aircraft modifications that would have to be officially approved.
Yeah, exactly. Basically, we couldn't really extend the plane to make the cameras—some standard cameras—work for the planes so basically, we needed to modify the systems on our end. We had lenses developed with 110-degree angles to really make both tips of the wings visible. So mounting on this was also not such an easy task, so we had really special mounts and some partners involved, which are really specialists on aviation—especially the safety aspect on this is pretty crucial. So really not just the cameras, but also the whole installation on the plane needs to be approved. That's why it was really hand-in-hand with these experts to build one system. And we have put together a group of engineers on our end, and they worked with engineers from the aviation area to build that system. [Timestamp: 5:51]

And these are obviously very small cameras, but they have to produce very high-quality video too. What sort of cameras are they and how much did they weigh? Is there some kind of official weight limit? You must have to assure them that you're doing the same thing in all the planes.
Yeah exactly. We've had a weight limit, and the weight limit was on the whole system including all cables. So basically, we got that limit and we needed to work towards that limit and build the special box around the equipment, which basically holds up to 20G before it breaks. The planes can only go up to 12G, but again, our box certainly needs to be more rugged at that point. So it was a requirement telling us exactly the weight as well as the maximum g-forces and the whole system was developed towards that requirement. [Timestamp: 6:45]

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