V8 racers get in-car Linux safety system

V8 Supercar races in Australia feature onboard Linux-based computers and wireless technology that sends information on crashes to officials

Linux-based computer systems are being placed on board V8 Supercars to provide visual information on crashes and relay the data to officials over a wireless network.

The systems are central to a programme undertaken by organisers of V8 Supercar racing in Australia to obtain more information about Supercar crashes, in the hopes of reducing the number of incidents at races.

"AVESCO (Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company Pty Ltd) and TEGA (Touring Car Entrants Group), who control the V8 Supercars racing, [want] to install video cameras into every V8 Supercar," David Douglas from Opia Vision, the company installing the video systems, told ZDNet Australia .

"That's for use by the stewards for use of adjudicating incidents on the track. If two or three cars come together they can have a look at video from all of the cars, including any cars that were following them, to determine who was at cause of the incident, if anyone was."

According to Douglas, V8 Supercar racing is receiving a lot more advertising and sponsorship money than previously, and those putting their money into the race want to protect their sponsorship dollar. "One of those things is being able to determine exactly who is at fault in an attempt to reduce the number of incidents that are occurring out on the track," he said.

There has been suspicion that past incidents may have been deliberate, but there was a lack of evidence to allow a proper investigation, said Douglas. "With more evidence now, including video cameras in every car, the correct decision can hopefully be made a lot more regularly," he added.

For a trial run at Oran Park on the weekend, Opia Vision fitted each car with a camera linking back to a customised computer using Red Hat Linux. The computers measure 285 x 200 x 85 mm and use SOM (system on module) motherboards, essentially a full computer on a four-inch square board. "We're using an 800 MHz Via solution and our own wavelet capture system, which is our own design," said Douglas.

"We were one of the first digital video people to make the move to Linux because, at the time [we were] using [Windows] 95 and 98, we had something like a 20-25 percent call-out rate per month to the systems, because they would just hang and corrupt themselves," said Douglas, explaining that Opia Vision moved to the open source platform because they needed higher reliability.

"Even after we stuck watchdog boards -- we were utilising a standard PC with an off the shelf capture card -- and we just found we needed to install a little man in a cupboard with them to keep hitting the reset button, and that was just becoming too expensive. And with a security video system you need it to work and to know that it's working."

The hard drives require three forms of shock-mounting in addition to the G-force rating they come with to survive the working conditions in the V8 Supercars.

The system films at 25 frames per second at 720 by 576 resolution and the data is stored on the computers' hard drive.

"The recording is happening totally within the car, and a new requirement they threw at us midway through the development process was that they would like to be able to receive video during the actual races, so that they can review the incidents while the race is still continuing," said Douglas.

"At the moment there is an organisation that does live video out of the cars, they use microwave and they need a helicopter to be able to do it, and there wasn't enough bandwidth to be able to handle it all. As an alternative we've been working with Austwireless and sorting out a wireless networking solution."

"Because we're having a TCP/IP connection out of the box, we can work over the wireless networking to retrieve the video," explained Douglas. "It doesn't get retrieved in real time, so a 30-second video clip might take four or five minutes to download, but that's OK because we've got the full video clip in its original quality as stored within the car."

Mark Di Cristo from Austwireless.com told ZDNet Australia that setting up the wireless network was relatively standard.

"We're only using one access point [at Oran Park]," said Di Cristo. "Bathurst ... is going to be a little more interesting because the issue with speed is to do with the handover between access points." The Bathurst racetrack will have two or three wireless access points.

"At Oran Park we set up two access points via a cross-over cable, and one access point talked to the guy's laptop and the other access point talked to the car so there was maximum throughput."

"Wireless itself pretty much goes the speed of light, which the cars aren't anywhere near," said Di Cristo. "In terms of signal transmission that's not an issue, the issue is once you start playing with handovers and trying to coordinate different cells so that they handover when they should and there's very little interruption."

Austwireless.com created an 802.11b wireless network using D-Link outdoor Access Point and a D-Link Ethernet to Wireless bridge. "We're probably going to go for an 802.11g solution because the bandwidth was insufficient," said Groth. "It doesn't have to be transferred real time because they're FTPing the actual data, and FTP is much more efficient than trying to view it real time."

The system should be applicable to many situations once it's up and running, and Apia Vision hopes to market it commercially. They have added information such as car speed, brake application and engine RPMs to the video, and can add any form of textual information. The final price for a commercial solution has not yet been determined, but Douglas is confident the solution will be less than AU$10,000 (£4,122.18) per vehicle.