It probably wasn’t long after heli skiers started lashing GoPro cameras onto their helmets that racers started bolt them to their roll cages. Nowadays, action cameras are everywhere, and in some NASA regions, required equipment.
YouTube is filled with racing videos, crashes, stellar passes and close calls. Some of them even make it to Speed News as our GoPro Move of the Month. Of course, as is the case with technology, advancements come at a steady pace, almost in lock step with Moore’s Law.
Now not only is possible to have your racing video live on the web just minutes after the cool-down lap, but there are a number of different ways to stream your race live, in real time. Well, with a 20-second delay.
There are a few different ways to go about it, and the purpose of this story isn’t to teach you everything there is to know about live-streaming to the Web, but to give you an overview and point you in the right direction. There will still be a lot of “figuring out” for you to do before you can broadcast, but with the Eastern and Western States Championships coming up, and you’re considering live-streaming, it’s time to begin the project. To find out more, we spoke with Roman Vaisman, a NASA SoCal member who has live-streamed in car video for a few years now, starting with the 2010 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
We had a laptop in the race car with a Sprint 3G card and a webcam. That was before the encoders were available. We did that for a few years,” Vaisman said. “The video was spotty, but it worked. The laptop was in a small plastic container and we could use remote desktop software to turn on and off the video feed.”
Vaisman has a degree in electrical engineering from UC Irvine and runs a small IT consulting company. He developed for NASA regions a localized wireless network that can be deployed at the track to provide data from timing computer, and to broadcast it reliably throughout the paddock. Teams then pick up signal via AMB’s RMonitor program.
Live video streaming serves a greater good than just trolling for likes or clicks, although it does that, too. Fans and sponsors can watch your progress on track, getting almost as good as seat as the driver. Vaisman said it’s a useful tool for teams to keep track of their cars during endurance races.
“First of all, we could determine if the car was on track,” Vaisman said. “If it was stopped we could talk to the driver, tell him to hit this switch or that, because we could see everything in the car.
“We can see if they’re overdriving the car and we can tell them to slow down. We can see it,” he added. “The biggest benefit was in knowing the car was turning laps. We could see it on video. If the car does not cross the start/finish line we don’t have to ask ‘Where is the car? What happened?’”
There are at least six live-streaming sites, most of which are free. Ustream.tv is the site Vaisman used for his broadcasting channel. YouTube has YouTube Live that lets you live-stream, but only if you have 100 or more followers. The other sites don’t have such requirements, but you can check them out to see which of them you prefer. In terms of equipment, there are a couple of ways to go.
Camera – Encoder – Router – Internet – Live-streaming Website
This is how the Team Thunder Valley Racing Saturn racecar is setup, and is shown in the photos. Vaisman hard-wired all the components together and powered them off the car. That way the crew doesn’t have to change any batteries during pit stops. They used a GoPro Hero to capture the action in car. Here’s how it works: The camera captures the video and sound, the encoder first puts the data into a format that can be uploaded to the live streaming site and then uploads it via an Internet connection provided by the router and a 4G cellular modem , where it can be seen on whatever live-streaming site you chose.
Camera – Encoder/Router – Internet – Live-streaming Website
Vaisman points out there are new encoders on the market that have an integrated router, which eliminates one piece of equipment from inside the car and sends the signal without an external router.
Smartphone Camera – Internet – Live-streaming Website
As you might imagine, now there’s an app for that. All smartphones nowadays have an integrated camera. All you need to do is download the Ustream app and be live in minutes. The Ustream app is free, of course, but Vaisman points out a unique problem with using your phone to broadcast.
“If somebody calls you, it interrupts the Ustream app,” he said. “With the encoder, we really had, I think, a flawless broadcast for the entire race at 25 hours. So that’s something to know. If you use a phone, who knows what’s going to happen with that.”
Regardless of which method and equipment you use, understand that live-streaming video uses a ton of bandwidth, so one of the chief considerations is cost of the data plan of your wireless service provider.
“The biggest cost in this whole setup is you have to have a good data plan because when you’re broadcasting in HD or not even in HD, in a race you can consume several gigabytes of data. It can get pretty pricey,” Vaisman said, adding that he had an unlimited data plan for the Thunderhill race. “During the 25, I think I calculated we probably used like 40 gb. It was substantial.”
The Choice is Yours
Whether live-streaming is worth your time and money is your decision. Also, in keeping with Moore’s Law, you can bet that more technology is coming that will make live streaming easier. It is possible you might be able to get everything you need for live-streaming in one package.
For example, the new 2015 Z06 Chevrolet Corvette comes with a camera and data system built into the top of the windshield. The system was developed by British engineering firm Cosworth, which is talking to other OEMs as well as GoPro for potential applications, so there might be something to watch for.
“You can use almost any type of camera, but the GoPro is probably the most popular one,” Vaisman said. “You don’t really need an expensive one. An older style GoPro Hero will work just fine. Those you have to hardwire through either the encoder or the video cables provided with the encoder and with the GoPro camera, but it’s pretty simple.”