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Robotic cameras at Huskie Stadium provide safety, peace of mind for NIU students, staff

November 14, 2011

Following the installation of high-definition robotic cameras, aerial lifts will no longer be used at Northern Illinois University for recording football practices.

NIU has completed the installation of two high-definition robotic cameras at Huskie Stadium, eliminating the hazardous use of aerial lifts and platforms for filming football practices.

Aerial lifts have been used on college campuses to provide video support to coaches since the early 1990s.

Following the 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, a University of Notre Dame student who died when the aerial lift he was in fell over during high winds, NIU President John Peters formed a work group tasked with quickly and effectively implementing safety protocols for using aerial lifts during inclement weather. The committee finalized and distributed the policy in March 2011.

Although the university had traditionally employed thorough safety training for lift operation and turbulent weather, Jay Orbik, director of NIU Media Services, believed safer options were available.

Utilizing technology already implemented for the NIU School of Music’s internationally acclaimed Internet2 Distance Learning and Performance Project, NIU Media Services worked with the Huskie football staff to install robotic cameras in each end zone, recognizing the need to ensure worker safety despite budgetary constraints.

“The safety of our students will always be our biggest priority,” said Orbik, who initiated the project. “I hope to never have to send a student up on a lift again.”

Prior to using robotic cameras, NIU student workers and staff were tasked with filming practices high above each end zone either from an aerial lift or from scaffolding secured to the south-end scoreboard. Individuals filming from those locations were required to follow outlined safety procedures.

“Implementing robotic cameras for football practices is the ultimate measure we have taken to keep our students safe,” said Patrick Gorman, video coordinator at NIU Media Services. “The football staff has fully supported our efforts and is now able to analyze video in all weather conditions. It’s a win-win.”

“The coaches love it. We can get more angles, tighter shots; different things we couldn’t do before we’re getting now,” said Pete Roley, assistant director of football operations.

Student worker Rachel Wicks of Peoria said that the robotic cameras offer not only a safer work environment but also an advantage to the coaching staff.

“In situations when the weather was bad, if we had to come down from the lifts, the coaches would either not have film for that day or we would have to get a different shot that wasn’t as good,” Wicks said. “Now we never have to worry about that because we’re always inside.”

Jim Thomsen, a student worker from McHenry, said he enjoys the safe confines of the office where the cameras are operated.

“It’s always nice being in a climate-controlled room,” Thomsen said. “I’m surprised other universities haven’t already gone this route. I know there’s a cost that goes with it, but safety’s a huge concern for a lot of schools and I know feel much safer inside.”

“Being the groundbreakers is huge for us,” Roley said. “We wanted to lead the way in this.”

For more information, contact Orbik at (815) 753-6670 or [email protected].