Reporting Hurricane Sandy: Technology from The Edge Group

Thursday 7 March 2013, 09:30

Tim Harness Tim Harness Product Lead

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Hi, I’m Tim Harness the lead technologist working on the BBC Edge Group.

The Edge is a forum within the BBC for programme makers, journalists, engineers and technologists who want to find new, different, innovative and/or low-cost ways of getting audio and video from recording or filming locations back to the studio.

huricane-1024.jpg Laura Trevelyan reporting on Hurricane Sandy. The bonding device can be seen hanging from the tripod

We meet up every couple of months with members from all corners of the BBC, contributing and sharing ideas and experiences.

Our members are always on the lookout for new devices or systems and scour broadcasting and mobile trade shows for the next break-through in technology.

It's often the small suppliers round the edges of the exhibition halls that have the most interesting and innovative devices.

For some new technologies there are usually several manufacturers supplying competing devices.

The Edge group enables the BBC to evaluate these devices, finding out what best meets our needs and then provides a platform to share these results. This enables our production teams to do what they do best with the right technology.

The Edge Group are actively pushing forward into new territory and testing out new equipment in the field.

The revolution in mobile smart technology is having as much of an impact on broadcasting as it is on our personal lives and we want to get hold of those gadgets and try them out!

For example, in 2011 we tested out some 3G bonding devices. These can aggregate, or 'glue', a number of mobile data connections together and enable high quality video to be broadcast from a camera out on location instead of using a truck with a satellite dish on the top of it.

This technology was used very successfully for the seventy day Olympic Torch Relay. But it really came of age during our coverage of Hurricane Sandy in New York.

In the build-up to the storm, due to high winds it wasn't safe for our news team to use a satellite truck. Instead they were able to use a bonding device the size of a lunchbox that we'd just started trialling.

This enabled them to use the 4G networks around New York and New Jersey and it worked very well. It enabled us to be more mobile in the aftermath as well as broadcast live interviews with our reporters when most other broadcasters could not.

Similar devices were later used while reporting on the US Elections in Miami and Madison.

4G is now in the UK and there is a lot of interest in the potential of bonding devices from different parts of the BBC because it is potentially much smaller, cheaper and more flexible than conventional equipment.

What’s coming next?

We are very interested in mobile phone apps that can be used like a live broadcast camera.

With 4G spreading throughout the county and wi-fi being available in many public areas there is enough bandwidth to get some really good pictures and sound.

Cameras and mobile phones are converging and offering new opportunities in portable, lightweight news gathering. You can rest assured that the Edge will be trying it out!

Tim Harness is lead technologist for The Edge Group.

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