'Mini' group, local firm team up for broadcast

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Don't call it a race, but a group of Mini drivers are going to be spinning their wheels around the BeaveRun Motorsports Complex today.

And one of the cars, owned by Mini of Pittsburgh, will have a camera broadcasting live over the Internet both the view out of the windshield and inside the cockpit.

Think of it as teeny tiny Nascar.

Online viewers will be able to watch the event, toggling between views so they can see the driver and the course at their own discretion, in essence producing their own video coverage.

The live broadcast is a production of Mini of Pittsburgh, which is working with the local technology start-up Vivo.

Spike Katora, one of Vivo's founders, said the Mini mobile system uses the software developed for Vivo and a couple of webcams attached to a plastic pipe that they have rigged up to suction cups stuck to the windshield.

The cameras are hooked to a laptop inside the car, and a cell phone network transmits the signal onto the Internet.

While in professional auto racing the cameras in the individual drivers cars send the signal to a production truck, Paul Fireman, another founder of Vivo, said "We're doing everything right from the car. That's the difference in our setup the mobile studio is your car."

The technology is so small that someone biking the Great Allegheny Passage or hiking the Appalachia Trail could conceivably hook up a camera to a netbook and broadcast the trip.

Mr. Fireman said the new application also may be used for multiple perspectives for trade shows and conferences.

The idea for the Mini cockpit cam came from Mini of Pittsburgh.

Once the technology passes its track test, Mike Crivelli, manager of the North Oakland dealership, said the dealership may run virtual test drives on its website.

Today's event will start on a snow-covered, 7-acre paved lot in Big Beaver. Mini drivers in their own cars and those who are test driving the dealership's car, will take turns driving with instructors to learn how to handle the car in the snow in a variety of situations. They will maneuver around cones and put the car into a skid on purpose. It's the sort of driving many people would love to do in the snow but don't because of the possibilities of accidents or arrests.

"We have instructors who will be individually working with the drivers," said Leon Dixon, the president of Pittstop Mini Club. "It teaches how their car handles."

Then the cars will go through time trials on the Wilson Circuit, a serpentine track on the motor complex site.

Mr. Dixon said there may be times when a Mini will go off course and slide off the track, but it's not like the Mini club will need a tow truck on hand: A small group of small people can pick up a Mini and carry it back onto the track if they need to.

For Vivo, it's a chance to see if the wireless system is as capable in real-life situations as it has been in the testing.

And for the drivers?

Mr. Dixon said today's event will have a definite educational component, but mostly it is going to be a lot of fun.

Watch the event live today, starting at 8 a.m. at http://vivolive.com/minitv/testdrive.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699. First Published February 21, 2010 5:00 AM


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