Houston, we don’t have a problem: AV and control rooms
AV technology has helped to make control rooms more efficient and it’s becoming more than just a visualisation tool. Sean Carroll looks at this side of the industry and discovers what’s next.
When you hear the phrase ‘control room’, you might immediately think of an action movie with armies and generals commanding troops to go here or there. Or you may think of Homer Simpson, donut and coffee in hand, ready to pull some levers and push some buttons in the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
In reality, control rooms are much more prevalent than in just those high risk situations and the Pro AV industry is finding that these rooms can benefit greatly from the implementation of its technology.
Control rooms have previously been used a lot in the IT space, making use of KVM to work collaboratively and get the job done. AV might’ve just been a visualisation tool, nothing more and nothing less, and potentially not even worth the investment.
But with the AV industry where it is with the strength of IoT, the power of AV-over-IP and the convergence with IT; integrators can and are working in the control room space to very positive returns.
“The feasibility and efficiency of AV-over-IP distribution is slowly changing the control room ecosystem with more, smaller, focused video walls than one single large wall. And, with the ubiquity of sources, it’s easier to create more specialised and smaller control rooms,” VuWall chief executive Paul Vander Plaetse says.
VuWall creates intelligent video wall control systems and provides solutions that can create a complete control room, collaboration room or corporate signage ecosystem with clients including Sydney Rail, the US Department of Homeland Security and Deloitte.
“It’s possible to distribute the data to the decision-makers in the big control room, but also to the multiple, smaller decision-making rooms such as meeting rooms like the director’s office, and crisis rooms,” he says.
“The role of the video wall in the control room is becoming more operational than just visual and/or analytical, and the smaller video walls in the crisis rooms become the decision-making video walls.”
A control room of today features a range of video walls and screens including rear projection cubes, LCD panels and narrow pixel pitch direct-view LEDs.
“This technology is chosen based on the type of content shown, the mode of operation such as 24/7 operation and the required brightness and budget,” Barco strategic marketing director operating experience Suchit Rout says.
He also points to control rooms requiring a media platform based on hardware encoders, decoders and video wall controllers.
“On top of the hardware, workflow support software is used to manage the video wall layouts, collaborate with remote stakeholders and create a centralised digital workspace for operators to consult and manage all types of operations systems.”
Barco also mentions the importance of screen size because even a slight bezel or inch of size lost can mean loss of data and subsequent loss of information. The Barco UniSee offers a bezel-less video solution that encapsulates the entire image it’s portraying.
“We try to build our control rooms around the activities of the operators, more of an operator-centric approach,” European Space Agency (ESA) operations control centre service manager Thierry Bru says.
“We have a mentality of, what do we need to accomplish and how can we best place the user to do these tasks.”
VuWall uses its own video wall with side-by-side touch screens which are powered by the VuScape controller and integrate with Deon and Microsoft Teams.
“We also have a 2×2 and a 3×3 video wall in our experience centre where we bring in various sources from websites, PowerPoint presentations, office-mounted IP cameras and media players, all powered by our VuScape controllers,” Paul explains.
Cyviz chief technology officer Eirik Simonsen points to the dynamism of modern day control rooms: “Historically, control rooms typically were quite static. We have all seen pictures of operators looking at a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) application in a nuclear plant, or security personnel watching a wall filled with camera feeds.
“From a technical point of view, these systems were not very difficult to design. The AV part was very simple; routing a video feed to a screen. There was limited flexibility, the implementation was basic, and the systems were difficult to use and maintain.”
Eirik says that Cyviz, a company that provides turnkey and standardised solutions to the control room and collaboration markets, sees AV as a separate layer that sits on top of the computing platforms that drives the software used in control rooms.
Cyviz has 20 years experience in working with control rooms with experience in military and energy sectors. It has seen the shift from it being simply an IT space to the progressive area it’s in now.
“Our job is to leverage AV technology in such a way, that operators can visualise and manage very complex situation,” he says.
“Our customers ask us to build solutions that give them situational awareness and a complete overview, which ultimately will be used to make decisions and take actions to mitigate risk and sustain the business.”
Speaking of decision making, that’s one of the ultimate goals of a control room; somewhere to monitor and control a space or service which sometimes involves high risk and important decisions. Any technology that can make the job easier or help with the crucial decisions is necessary.
“Optimal decision-making is only possible when all stakeholders have the right information available when they need it,” Barco managing director Claudio Cardile says.
“This means that all images, video footage and data need to be distributed in a swift and secure way, to any location – in the control room, in a crisis room and remotely. This allows you to optimally monitor and manage the resolution of any situation.
“Barco gives the operators all required tools to optimally perform their tasks. Using a single keyboard and mouse, they have access to all relevant information – even from disparate secured networks.”
Decisions can be very costly depending on the situation at hand: “When it comes to controlling satellites, since they cost quite a few hundreds of millions of dollars, we tend not to take many risks and we try to rely on proven technology,” ESA ground stations engineer Marc Roubert says.
“When we launch a satellite or walk on the moon, that’s where we do the innovation. For the control room, since we don’t want to take any risks, we rely on proven technologies.”
ESA’s Thierry explains that the space agency is now attempting to harmonise everything over IP. This is now a technology that’s well established and the ESA feels confident can help its operations.
CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research is the body that operates the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Its control centre manager Rossano Giachino echoes the ESA sentiment: don’t take risks in the control room.
“We paid special attention to keep daylight, a high ceiling and reduce noise between the four operation islands of the control room,” he says.
The CERN control room centralised four different control units with the objective of controlling the LHC.
“Our main objectives are efficiency, performance and reliability in a very demanding technical environment. Our control room does not change every year, we plan carefully each modification, only when we see a real benefit, we change,” he says.
So innovation in this side of the AV industry comes in different forms. It’s not in your face and looking for attention, it’s well thought out, calculated and as reliable as possible.
VuWall’s Paul points to the AV/IT convergence, something that has already happened and is happening: “Traditionally, the video wall has been more of an AV implementation while KVM has always been an IT implementation.
“As the interoperability between KVM systems and video walls becomes more and more seamless, it will give operators full control of the video wall rather than just using the video wall as a visualisation tool.”
This is in line with the AV industry as a whole and agrees with what the CERN and ESA managers are saying. It’s not the newest idea in Pro AV but it has matured enough to be trusted.
Another aspect of the industry that’s becoming normalised is AI and machine learning.
“Software that supports and manages decision-making workflows will be key to control room AV as it ensures a seamless way to leverage insights from control rooms to inform decision making,” Suchit says.
“In addition, analytics that can help improve decision-making times as well as usage efficiency of control room products will ensure better and faster decision making.”
Cyviz’s Eirik supports this statement, saying that AI will replace humans when it comes to analysing and interpreting huge amounts of data coming from sensors and data sources.
“AR will enable operators to blend reality with computer generated content that is supported by AI. The traditional understanding of a control room does not cover this reality.
“As a consequence, we have to redefine the purpose of the control room. What used to be sufficient is today completely insufficient from an operational point of view. The next generation of control rooms will not be built for looking at data, they will be built for visualisation and interaction with sophisticated computer systems that deliver situational awareness.”
Is there still a need for Homer Simpson in the future control room? If AI can interpret data, then where does that leave the individual operators?
As all sci-fi movies have taught us, there’s still a need for human intuition. Humans can make decisions that robots can’t and more importantly, can gauge safety and security.
In the case of control room security, there are two aspects: digital and physical. Eirik says that a distributed security implementation over multiple locations is more difficult and a control room is an extremely important asset and as a result, an obvious target for a cyber attack.
Cyviz Solutions can be deployed in SCIFs (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) and in distributed environments.
“Our technology is integrated with standard authentication protocols and services, including SSO and two-factor. We have, for example, delivered extremely complex systems in multi classified SCIFs with NATO certification.”
As a manufacturer and integrator, it’s important to note that a lot of the securing is handed over to the client. When the final product and control room is operational, it’s the client’s responsibility to secure the room how they see fit.
“As a manufacturer, we ensure secure communications between our devices with the implementation of the TLS protocol and signal encryption,” Paul says.
Control rooms are an essential part of most large-scale companies and can be used as a collaboration tool as well as its traditional intention. There may also be an increase in the amount of applications that control rooms have, just as a few years ago we never imagined running an array of video walls without plenty of RGB cables running in and out.
What does the future of Pro AV in control rooms look like? It’ll include a lot of what has succeeded in other aspects of the industry. It’ll make use of proven technologies that are low-risk, reliable and, most importantly, improve the decision making abilities of the user.