Tech to put hockey fans in action at Consol Energy Center - Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation - Carnegie Mellon University

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tech to put hockey fans in action at Consol Energy Center

Cheers echo through Mellon Arena as Sidney Crosby scores a backhander. But it takes nine seconds for the concourse video screens to catch up with the action.

The experience can leave fans buying a soft pretzel or scouring the halls for Iceburgh the mascot feeling detached from what's happening on the ice.

It won't happen in the new Consol Energy Center. Workers this week were installing the $321 million arena's technological backbone to support a high-speed video network, and 200 WiFi transmitters that will link 800 high-def screens and thousands of hockey fan smartphones.

"There's nowhere that you're going to walk in the arena and feel out of touch," said Chris DeVivo, director of media technology for the Penguins. "You're really connected to everyone in the building."

Locally based companies are equipping the arena with many of its high-tech marvels.

AEC Group of McKeesport won a $2.8 million contract to install the arena's Cisco Systems "data lifeline," which will be completed by August, said Marty Connelly, a managing partner at the 110-employee firm. It's installing the computer servers, routers, Ethernet cables, telephones and touch screens that will run ticket windows, instant replay systems and even the escalators and elevators. The company is setting up the systems for the Penguins executive office, which is relocating to Consol Center, Connelly said.

"It's the same system that's in the Dallas Cowboys stadium," he said. "It's the top of the line."

The WiFi transmitters will expand the number of fans who can use YinzCam, a free smart phone application that allows users to download live video, replays and player info. And an in-house cell phone signal transmitter will ensure strong reception for surfing the Web.

Priya Narasimhan, a Carnegie Mellon University computer engineering professor and creator of YinzCam, expects the new system to handle up to 30 percent of the 18,087-seat arena's capacity.

Narasimhan said there are plans to use the WiFi network in unique ways, including a beacon that could be attached to Iceburgh.

"I have a 3-year-old, and I spend half my life hunting the mascot down. A beacon could show you where he is," she said.

Hockey fans watching the games at home will notice differences as well, DeVivo said.

The Penguins are working on plans to cut two holes on either end of the boards, cover them in Plexiglas and install robotically controlled cameras to get more player close-ups. The Igloo's cameras are forced to almost always shoot down onto players against the white ice.

"The NFL can catch the expressions on the guys' faces on camera," DeVivo said. "That's what we want: to catch the emotion of the game, to put fans right there on the ice."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review