A Skype video call from a rally car? Why not ;)
Jaan Kronberg leads Skype’s PSTN team – the people who deal with the magic that lets you make calls to landlines and mobiles from Skype. In his spare time, however, he likes to drive very, very fast.
Where it all started
A couple of years ago I finally found the time (and money) to participate in Estonian ‘everyman rally’ events. I should admit I never was successful, but it is a lot of fun – you meet cool people, you drive your car as fast as possible on the streets of little Estonian villages (legally!), you learn to understand the spirit of rally.
Last year I tried compiling videos from those events. Videoediting quickly became boring – I’m not the kind of person who can sit for hours behind the PC, cutting and putting together different pieces of video, mixing music tracks and effects and all that kind of stuff. Alright – I can do that, but not more than a couple of times.
I clearly needed a new challenge. How about… how about broadcasting a live picture from the car? Video and sound? Directly from the track? They do it on WRC all the time, so it can’t be that difficult, right?
Luckily for me, I live in Estonia and in Estonia – assuming you use the right device and the right service provider – you can have access to the Internet literally everywhere. And obviously, as long as you have access to internet, you can do almost anything. Another piece of luck – I work at Skype, so it was pretty obvious how I was going to get the video and sound out from the car.
So, it was time for a little test: webcam, laptop with running Skype, CDMA modem from KÕU. What else? Ah – headset, so that I can talk to the driver. Also, we needed environment where to broadcast the show – I’ve chosen USTREAM.
Initial testing revealed a few problems – I’d need a more shock-resistant laptop than my x60; having just one webcam is boring and that webcam microphones are completely useless in a noisy environment. Also we had to do some work on wiring, as both laptop and router needed chargers.
I went to Sten and told him about my experiments. He thought that this stuff is worth trying and bought a Panasonic Toughbook – a shock/water/dust resistant version of what people normally call laptops
Then we installed the Skype4Py wrapper for the Skype API and wrote a little script that was receiving skype chat messages and doing all kind of really cool stuff – switching between webcams (I had one pointed to the road, the other to the driver/co-driver), muting/unmuting microphone, send/stop sending video, redial if call was hung up for whatever reason.
Basically, skype was not only used as a transport for voice/video, but also a channel (through chat) to give orders to a remote client.
Next thing – we went to the rally Unfortunately, right before SS3 we lost Internet connectivity. After finishing we discovered that the router’s power cable was not properly attached, so those 2 first stages the router was running on batteries. All the failure just because of one cable – that’s just not fair!
Nevertheless, the 2 first stages were watched by a bit more than 300 people simultaneously – which by far exceeded our expectations
We’ve got a couple of ideas how to make it even more interesting – intermediate results scrolling on screen, broadcasting phonecalls (using Skype) with pilots/marshalls, camera to servicepark to see what’s happening there. And a few more besides