Robot Surf Photographer

This is probably a silly idea but it’s on my mind so I want to share it with everyone.  The idea is to build a robot photographer that can shoot photos and videos of people surfing; the photographs can then automatically be uploaded to our website or even to your facebook account, Picassa or Flickr.

I am in no way a robot expert or a photographer so I am no authority on this subject but I think it would definitely be a cool thing for the surf camp to have so I am going to put the idea out there to see if it’s possible and what it would cost to build it.

We already have a Tamarindo Web Cam on the side of the hotel which can be controlled to view the beach; this forms the basis of the idea. I read about all kinds of facial recognition software, warehouses controlled by robots, GPS systems and not to mention all of the big brother technology I see on the discovery channel so I think that everything needed to make a robotic surf photographer already exists.

The idea is that we have several robotic cameras mounted on the hotel, or on poles along the hotel property and then a mobile unit which can be set up at any surf break.  The cameras will be connected to central computer system that will control the direction and settings of the camera.

When people are surfing on Tamarindo Beach then they can put a waterproof chip into their board shorts which will broadcast a location and tell the central computer their location, this information will then be processed by the central computer and will then in turn point the cameras to the exact location of the chip.

We will need to create a digital beach or beach matrix within the central computer so that it has a map with the co-ordinates of the beach and then each chip within the map. The computer will need to convert the co-ordinates of the chip into commands that will control the camera.

To ensure everyone who has a chip gets photos or video taken then we would set a schedule so that the cameras follow a certain chip during a timeframe. Each surfer would then get their allotted timeslot so they know to bring their A game and remember. During the timeslot then the camera will constantly take photographs or video at the fastest and highest frame rate possible.

After a quick Google search I found that there are several cameras on the market that can be controlled via USB from computer software.  There are also robotic camera mounts that can be controlled by USB so the ability to move a camera and take pictures via a computer already exists.  I have never tested or seen any of these items so I don’t yet know the complexity and quality of these existing products to make this idea happen.

Cameras already have auto focus and lenses that are capable of zooming from Tamarindo all the way over to Playa Grande so the camera piece of this idea definitely exists.

The technical challenge is going to be creating the digital beach and then broadcasting the location from the chip and receiving it at the central computer, as all of this need to happen in real time as people the ocean is constantly moving as well as the surfers when they take waves.

The chips are going to have to broadcast their co-ordinates within the digital beach so that the camera constantly adjusts the direction and zoom to keep the chip (or person carrying it) in focus.

I briefly looked at some RF chips but they did not have the range that would be required for this idea as the surfing area is at least 700m X 500m, so the chips are going to need to be capable of broadcasting a signal 700m and certainly though water.

Writing a program that receives the co-ordinates and controls the cameras and digital beach is something that is way above my own technical skills but perhaps there is someone out there who can do this or maybe even some other application of similar technology that can be used.

There are going to be many other technical obstacles in the creation of a robotic surf photographer but I am going to keep looking around on the internet. I would love to hear from anybody who has any ideas or experience in this or similar ideas.

This concept would be great not just for taking surf pictures but also as a safety measure in the tracking any of our guests, employees or friends in the water so that we can come to their help if they get caught in a rip or move outside of the digital beach.

Thinking ahead this technology could be used at any beach around the world and if we had mobile units then it could be used literally anywhere. This technology could be used not just for surfing but also for other sporting events as it could track players on a field or skiers on a slope.

I don’t think that a robotic surf photographer could fully replace a human photographer so Happy our resident photographer does not have to worry about losing his job as there would always need to be a master for the robot but it would allow Happy to photograph many people at the same time without having to stand on the sand in 100 degree temperatures for hours on end.

There are probably more important things I should spend my time thinking about other than robotic surf photographers but I wanted to put it out there as this is on my mind…….

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