Swiss Startup Turns Military Drone Cameras on World Cup

FIFA is betting on lightning-quick cameras and sensors used in surveillance drones to be goal-line supervisors at the World Cup, in the biggest test yet for the technology.

World Cup orders have added to demand from factories and railways where the cameras are used for inspections and surveillance, according to Marcel Krist, chief executive officer of manufacturer Photonfocus. The cameras, tested at soccer’s Confederations Cup, could be rolled out full-time if they prove successful.

“2013 was a very good year, 2014 is going like crazy” said the CEO of the Lachen, Switzerland-based company, created in 2001.

The Swiss startup helped Goal Control -- the German company contracted by soccer’s ruling body FIFA to provide goal-line technology at the World Cup -- beat competitor U.K.-based Hawkeye in the tender. Hawkeye, already established as an adjudicator in cricket and tennis, on Jan. 18 awarded Edin Dzeko a goal for Manchester City against Cardiff City in an English Premier League game.

Fifa’s investment in high-speed cameras is designed to prevent embarrassing mishaps. Four years ago in South Africa, England midfielder Frank Lampard was denied a goal at a crucial stage of the game even though television replays showed his strike against Germany crossed the line. England went on to lose the game 4-1.

“Our sensors are fast -- you need the speed to detect these goal situations,” Krist said.

Brazil opened the World Cup yesterday with a 3-1 defeat of Croatia in Sao Paulo, with a penalty decision providing the most contentious moment of the game.


Outside of football, the cameras can be attached to army vehicles, buildings, aircraft and unmanned aircraft, known as drones. Krist declined to specify which armies use its devices, citing confidentiality.

Photonfocus cameras are installed at each of the 12 World Cup stadiums, often under the roof, with seven cameras focusing on each goal. The devices can record up to 500 images per second which, together with Goal Control’s ball tracking algorithm, measure whether the ball crossed the goal line to an accuracy within 5 millimeters (0.2 inch). The result is transmitted within a second to the referee.

Goal Control, which costs about 250,000 euros ($338,300) per stadium, was used at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013, when there were no marginal calls to test the system.

Photonfocus assembles the cameras and sensors by hand in its headquarters, about a 30-minute drive from Zurich, while production and parts testing is done in Austria and Germany.

The World Cup will contribute a small amount to a forecast of about 20 percent growth this year in revenue of 4 million francs to 5 million francs ($5.6 million) at the 10-employee company, Krist said.

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