INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 8, 2000 - When AniVision's NetRaceLive.com opens its cyberspace doors at the 84th Indianapolis 500 in May, prepare to see high-tech racing simulation games in a whole new light.
Thanks to a business and research partnership formed with the Northern Light Indy Racing Series in early 1999, AniVision, Inc., has, with Net Race Live, created what will be considered the future of online interactive gaming, according to AniVision President Brian Mitchell.
"We feel the 2000 Indianapolis 500 is the perfect launching pad for this completely new business," he said. "Net Race Live is absolutely the next generation in interactive online gaming, and the Indy 500 is the perfect venue to introduce the game, in order to get the most international exposure."
AniVision's Net Race Live Internet site (http://www.NetRaceLive.com) will allow any race fan with a PC and Internet connection to race in a simulated version of a Northern Light Indy Racing Series event immediately upon the real-life race's conclusion.
"The whole concept of Net Race Live is that we collect data from the cars during a race, and we process it so it can be delivered over the Internet to Indy Racing games," said Mitchell. "From your PC you can connect to this racing stream and be an additional car among the full field of the actual Indy Racing series race."
The cutting-edge technology that allows this Indy Racing/AniVision partnership to work is based on technology that AniVision originally created for the U.S. Army.
"We've been working with the Army since 1993 to develop what they call the 'synthetic theatre of war,'" said Mitchell. "It is an Internet-integrated battle lab that allows soldiers to train without physically bringing everyone together.
"For instance, they have a training range in Germany with tanks instrumented with telemetry similar to that on the Indy Racing cars. Those tanks collect data that is sent to Fort Knox, Ky. The soldiers in Kentucky are in simulators, and they put the two groups together on the same virtual battlefield so they can train together over the Internet."
AniVision, based in Huntsville, Ala., was spun off as a private company in October 1999 to focus on commercial Internet and technology products. Before that, the company was a subsidiary of Thermo Electron corporation since 1994. Thermo Electron is a Waltham, Mass.-based company specializing in technology, environmental and healthcare products and had sales of $3.9 billion in 1998.
In addition to the NetRaceLive.com project, AniVision is active with the Northern Light Indy Racing Series as sponsor of the Net Race Live Award, which honors the driver who leads the most laps in each Indy Racing event with a $10,000 bonus.
AniVision, an Indy Racing Promotional Partner, chose to sponsor the Northern Light Indy Racing Series not only because of the Indianapolis 500, the series' cornerstone event and the largest single-day sporting event in the world, but also because of the way the series has embraced technology, Mitchell said.
"We started with Indy Racing because we felt they are the premier technological innovator in motorsports," he said. "We found the league to be very supportive at the licensing and competition level, and we realized the series is very progressive in its use of electronics and sensors with its cars. It has been extremely easy to work with the teams and drivers to test our concepts and deploy them.
"So Indy Racing was the logical place to start because the technology is there, in addition to the openness of the league and the Indy 500 and its appeal nationally and overseas."
According to Mitchell, the partnership has the potential to benefit the teams and league officials from an engineering and safety standpoint. For instance, rookie drivers who have not competed at a venue may have the opportunity to drive the track in a virtual reality setting before actually getting in the car and onto the pavement.
In addition, AniVision's Performance 3D Pro race analysis tool can be used to recreate on-track incidents in 3D animation. Teams, drivers and league officials could evaluate the contributing factors of the accident.
"We developed software that was made available to race teams which takes telemetry data and animates it," said Mitchell. "So for instance, if Buddy Lazier just ran a fast lap, he can view the lap animation on a laptop PC with his crew to see what he did right or wrong. It's as if the driver had a virtual camera in the cockpit that shows the g-force loads, steering position, rpm, the driving line - a lot of insight that helps the whole team.
"All along we have been focused on developing Net Race Live, but we started by working with the teams to develop their confidence in us and our technology. We showed them how we can help them, in addition to our business on the gaming side."
The success of AniVision's sponsorship and partnership with the Northern Light Indy Racing Series has the company looking to expand its research and to improve the product. These enhancements will benefit the teams and the online Indy Racing fans.
"We're making improvements to the technology that enable us to get very accurate estimates of where the cars are on the track - down to a few centimeters," said Mitchell. "It will help teams improve their racing lines on the track and run faster. And for Net Race Live fans, it means we will have very realistic representations on our game."
For Northern Light Indy Racing Series fans who get squeamish at the thought of turning left at 220 mph, AniVision's Net Race Live is the next best thing to actually strapping in and hitting the gas.