2020 Daytona 500

New custom racing drone will capture Daytona 500 action while traveling 80 mph

Fox Sports will employ new drone technology as they work to innovate the way NASCAR coverage is shown to viewers.

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports

NASCAR is back for 2020, with the Daytona 500 kicking off the newly title sponsor-less Cup Series tomorrow in Daytona. For Fox Sports, NASCAR's television broadcast partner for the first half of the premier Cup season, Daytona is a field laboratory for trying out new technology for motorsport storytelling.

For the past few years, there has been a particular focus on drone technology. First it was a tethered drone, flying along the backstretch but connected to the ground. Then, last year, Fox flew an untethered drone for the first time. This was a major accomplishment, requiring coordination and permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the track, law enforcement at all levels, as well as the Daytona Airport which is literally adjacent to the track.

Fox Sports green screen Lindsay Czarniak Fox Sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak stands in front of new green screen technology employed during the 2019 NASCAR season.Photo by Jordan Golson

It was, according to Fox executives, the first time an untethered drone was flown legally in a "temporary flight restriction zone".

Fox Sports has long been a pioneer in on-air tech, launching the yellow First Down line in football more than 25 years ago — which is now standard across football — as well as other innovations that were a little less successful, like the FoxTrax glowing puck in hockey.

Last year, Fox launched a new green-screen "virtual studio" where an entire broadcast studio was generated with augmented reality. That required new tech to insert artificial backgrounds on the green screens of the set between the camera shot and the control room, as well as new makeup techniques to offset the green on presenters faces.

Though the untethered drone last year was an accomplishment, it didn't give the Fox Sports production team video shots it didn't have before. It floated over the grass infield of the backstretch at Daytona — well away from fans and the cars, which it wasn't allowed to fly over. It worked as a test, which was great. But it wasn't footage that couldn't have been achieved in a more traditional manner.

"We had this thing out there and it worked and it was good quality," said Michael Davies, senior vice president of Field & Tech Operations, Fox Sports. "But, we could have gotten that from a jib. So we scratched our heads and said is it really worth it?"

This year, they have an 80-foot crane between turns one and two that was partially inspired by the shots the drone was able to get last year. "You'd be hard-pressed to tell that it's not a drone," said Davies.

But to make things a little more exciting, Fox has partnered with Beverly Hills Aerials, a drone firm that specializes in television and movie drone shots. Below is some footage from their test shoot during a NASCAR practice session at Daytona on Friday.

They built a custom racing drone that can go as fast as 80 mph. It's little more than some propellers, a battery good for six or seven minutes of flying time, a flight camera for the pilot, and a GoPro Hero 4 shooting at 720p and 60fps. It is surprising that the team would be using such an old camera (GoPro is selling the Hero 8 these days), but reliability is most important and since it works for them, they keep using it. Also on board is a transmitter that sends the GoPro footage straight to the control room and that's about it.

"It's a racing drone. And with racing drones, your platform is your drone. There's no gimbal and the camera is totally fixed," said Davies in an interview this week. "The movement of the camera comes from the movement of the drone. There's no two-man operation. We needed something that was faster and more agile."

The goal, says Fox, is to help put the viewer in places they've never been before. They've pioneered things like the Gopher cam, a camera literally inside the hole on a golf course, as well as the lipstick cam in baseball to show interesting views of the pitcher or batter.

"We want to cover the game from the inside out, versus the outside in," explains Davies. "Typical coverage is cameras placed around the field of play or track or whatever. What makes it interesting is a little bit more access in terms of putting cameras in places people haven't seen."

Thanks to the rise in the popularity of video games, which can put a virtual camera wherever you want, viewers aren't satisfied with static camera views. Even in-car cameras are considered commonplace these days, so Fox is putting cameras right on the helmet of the driver, making it even more personal.

"We can push in terms of in-car technology to give people a more intimate view of the race," explains Davies. "Fundamentally, that makes my job and what I'm able to do at Fox kind of interesting." Though the camera might be used during the race, he's also excited for other things that the speed of the drone, as well as the unique camera-angle, makes possible.

"After what we see Saturday and Sunday, we'll come up with other regimens of things we'll be able to do," says Davies. "It's literally a flying camera, topping out at 80 mph." That's not enough to chase a 200 mph stock car down the back stretch, but it's enough to be one of the fastest cameras that Fox has ever deployed.

"It's interesting to keep finding different things to do," he said. "I think from this one, there's gonna be no mistaking it. This is what I'm excited about. There's no other way to get these shots."

Below is the video feed from Fox Sports featuring the crash at the end of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Nascar Racing Experience 300 on Saturday afternoon.

The ability for the drone to fly during the Daytona 500 is unique, not just because of the technology, but because of the presence of President Donald Trump who will serve as grand marshal. Ahead of the race, the FAA and the Secret Service are restricting all flights within 30 miles of Daytona International Speedway unless they are approved law enforcement aircraft or military aircraft directly supporting the U.S. Secret Service or the Office of the President.

Looking up at the race will also allow attendees to see a flyover from the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds — their 10th in a row and their 11th overall —and the Goodyear Blimp.

Audi has detailed their four vehicle platforms that provide the foundation to the company's electrified future.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Audi has committed to having 30 electrified models for sale by 2025, with 20 of those being full electric. The company's promise falls into line with those of its parent company, Volkswagen, and the stated goals of all of the Volkswagen brands.

The German automaker already offers five premium electrified models for sale in the U.S. The Audi Q5 TFSI e, A7 TFSI e, and A8 TFSI e are all plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). The Audi E-Tron SUV and Sportback.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Next up are the Audi Q4 E-Tron SUV and E-Tron GT performance sedan. These two models have already been shown in concept form.

Globally, Audi anticipates it will reach production of approximately 800,000 electrified vehicles per year by 2025.

Audi's upcoming all-electric vehicles will feature four different architectures. The company says that these models balance performance, efficiency, practicality, and the engineering and craftsmanship buyers have come to expect from the German automaker.

Audi E-Tron 55 Quattro Platform Photo courtesy of Audi AG

MLB Evo Platform

The Audi E-Tron SUV has a wheelbase of 114.3 inches putting it between the Audi Q5 and Q7 in the automaker's lineup. It has a battery pack that stores up to 05 kWh of energy and can recover 30 percent of the energy used during driving via regenerative braking.

The E-Tron platform houses two asynchronous electric motors that produce 402 horsepower in Boost mode. A more powerful, three-motor variant (possibly for an E-Tron S or RS-type model) is under development.

It has a power electronics module that is able to read sensor data 10,000 times per second and output those values allowing the motors to assist with traction depending on road conditions. This all-wheel drive system can redistribute torque to wheels with traction during a slippage situation in just 30 milliseconds.

The models can charge using Level 1, 2, and 3 current, achieving an approximately 80 percent charge in 30 minutes at a 150 kW high-speed public charger.

This platform is manufactured in a CO2-neutral plant in Brussels, Belgium. That factory has a rooftop solar array that is large enough to charge approximately 30,000 E-Tron SUVs.

Audi E-Tron S Sportback Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The new E-Tron Sportback will join the Audi lineup later this year and feature a sloped roofline giving the SUV a sportier appearance than can be found in the E-Tron SUV.

J1 Platform

The recently revealed Audi E-Tron GT concept performance sedan shows how Audi envisions their sports-centric car lineup evolving in an electric era. The model features engineering with the Porsche brand, which developed the J1 architecture, the platform that underpins the Porsche Panamera.

Audi has designed the E-Tron GT concept to feature two permanently excited synchronous motors that deliver 582 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque. The motors have permanent magnets in them and a natural internal magnet field. In this type of motor, the rotor moves in coordination with the magnetic field of the stator (the stationary part of the motor in which the rotor rotates). This puts the "permanently excited" in its name.

Audi reports that the electric system inside the E-Tron GT concept runs at 800 volts. Typical systems run at 400 volts. The increased amount is possible because of the car's energy management and cooling systems.

Retail-ready stats for the car aren't available yet, but the concept car is estimated in to reach 62 mph in 3.5 seconds and 124 mph in just over 12 seconds. Like other E-Tron models, it was fashioned with all-wheel drive with dynamic torque management.

The E-Tron GT is able to charge to 80 percent of its battery capacity in 20 minutes at a Level 3 DC fast charger.

Audi Q4 E-tron Concept Photo courtesy of Audi AG

MEB Platform

The Audi Q4 E-Tron concept was deigned to deliver affordability alongside technical sophistication. This model utilizes the company's MEB platform, which anchors other Volkswagen family vehicles. Using the same platform across multiple vehicle offerings allows automakers to keep costs down, allowing vehicles to be more affordable for buyers.

The MEB platform is able to accommodate a variety of electric motors and lithium-ion batteries. It offers a wheelbase and battery storage design that allows for the maximization of passenger space. According to Audi, "The Q4 e-tron is expected to be the first Audi model based on the MEB platform, with exterior dimensions comparable to those of the Q3 but with the interior dimensions of a significantly larger vehicle. The architecture also offers new design opportunities and offers different performance levels and powertrain configurations."

A variety of motor and power configurations are allowed for in this platform. The electrical architecture allows for 800 volts of power, what the J1 delivers.

Audi e-mobility Photo courtesy of Audi AG

PPE Platform

Co-developed with Porsche, the PPE architecture is a high-tech, scalable platform that allows for low- and high-floor vehicles that are medium-size and up and is designed to be offered in vehicles for the global market.

A number of powertrain and battery options will be available. Standard packaging will allow for one electric motor in the rear; the higher-range models will be equipped with a second electric motor at the front axle that can activate all-wheel drive functionality when needed.

Despite all this engineering and development, the question remains, "Do people want to buy electric vehicles?" A recent Ford Trends report revealed that one-third of those surveyed globally had no interest in owning one.

Volvo Valet delivers a luxury level experience for owners.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volvo owners can now have their cars serviced without having to come face-to-face with another human. The automaker has debuted its new Volvo Valet service in the U.S., offering owners the opportunity to use their smartphone to schedule maintenance.

Users download the Volvo Valet app (available for iOS or Android) to schedule their service appointment as well as a preferred pickup time. A retailer employee will then pick up the customer's car and drop off a loaner vehicle for use while maintenance is being performed.

Through the Volvo Valet app the customer can see where their driver is and when they will arrive tracking their moves like you can in the Uber app. After handoff, the owner can receive a notification when their car has arrived at the dealership. The customer is notified the moment their car is ready to be picked up then, the retailer will contact the customer to arrange a time to return their Volvo and pick up the loaner vehicle.

Volvo Valet app The Volvo Valet app allows for vehicle maintenance to be conducted without the hassle of heading to a dealership.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

To ensure a fully transparent process retailer employees are asked to photograph the condition of both cars at the point of handoff.

"Volvo Valet gives owners the flexibility to service and maintain their vehicles in a way that works best for them," said Anders Gustafsson, Senior Vice President Americas and President and CEO, Volvo Car USA. "Volvo Valet has been very successful in pilot testing over the last year and it is now ready to serve our customers and retailers in this unprecedented time."

Owners can also choose to schedule this service over the phone with their local dealership.

Volvo vehicles of any age are eligible for this service, at the discretion of individual retailers. To check if an individual retailer is participating in the program, customers can contact their service department until an online functionality is added this spring. Retail locations can be found at www.volvocars.com

All service performed via Volvo Valet is eligible for the Service by Volvo benefits provided to all Volvo car owners: Volvo Tow for Life offers owners free towing to a Volvo retailer within a 25-mile radius for the life of the car when work is performed there. Volvo Lifetime Replacement Parts and Labor Warranty covers genuine Volvo parts installed by a Volvo retailer for out-of-warranty repairs for as long as they own the car—pay once and never again.

While currently applicable only to maintenance and service, Volvo Valet will be expanded to include lease and purchase deliveries, lease returns, and overnight test drives later in 2020.