Unisys' Wind Stick
Stirs Up Publicity
Golf tournament viewers
get real-time reports
on wind speed and direction.
Leslie J. Nicholson
Inquirer Staff Writer
Unisys Corp. is
known for producing the big stuff: heavy duty business computers, software,
and services. One of the Blue Bell company's more successful products,
however, was created in an employee's garage.
It is called the
Wind Stick, and it is fast becoming a staple on televised golf tournaments.
The Wind Stick take
real-time readings on wind speed and direction during golf broadcasts,
and sends the information to a little onscreen graphic that bears the
There are sophisticated
electronics involved, to be sure, but some parts of this humble device
can be found at a home-improvement store, including a painter's pole
and a home weather station.
Unisys' Wind Stick uses an anemometer and weather vane to collect
data on the wind speed and direction.
A microcontroller unit inside a plastic control box on the Wind
Stick processes the data and sends the information over the golf
course by way of a radio modem with a powerful transmitter.
The data go into a computer in a television production truck.
The computer has a TV character generator and graphics interface
card. Software designed by Unisys merges the wind telemetry data
with other information and, at the command of the show's director,
superimposes, or "keys" the dynamic wind-direction arrow display
over the video picture.
Wind Stick has given Unisys millions of dollars worth of free advertising,
and has increased its exposure to an important audience: senior executives
with deep pockets and a love for the links.
"These people watch
very little television, and what little they do [watch] tends to be
sports, and, more often than not, tends to be golf," David Fox, manager
of sports marketing for Unisys, said.
Unisys' sports marketing
arm has worked with a variety of televised sporting events for two decades.
Golf has always been a major focus. The company routinely provides scoring
services and related technology for major tournaments.
"Golf, we believe,
reaches very clearly our target audience," Fox said. "weíre
trying to do a number of things. There is clearly a name awareness opportunity.
It also gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our own technology."
supplies equipment such as personal computers, network servers, and
radio-frequency transmission terminals to gather and transmit leader
board statistics and other data.
The Wind Stick is
a bit of a departure.
After toiling in
his garage for four months, Unisysí technical manager, Jeff Schroeder,
developed the device a year ago. The project grew out of a meeting between
Unisys and ABC Sports Television to discuss golf advertising. Unisys
wanted to do more than advertise; it wanted to add something to the
program. ABC suggested the wind data.
Before the development
of the Wind Stick, TV viewers relied on readings that were taken manually
by officials walking along the course. By the time the readings reached
viewers, they could be three or four minutes old, Fox said.
"And it was something
of an average of what was going on," Schroeder added. With the Wind
Stick, "you see wind gust and swirl as it happens," he said.
A couple of years
before the ABC meeting, Schroeder had mounted a weather station on the
roof of the Unisys scoring trailer to provide wind readings to onsite
golf spectators and to Internet audiences.
The software engineer's
new task was to adapt the system to transmit data from the golf course.
"'fire Wind Stick was my deepest foray ever into hardware," he said.
"In a big way, if you're doing work with software, you're almost into
the hardware anyway."
in Pensacola, Fla. He joked that he worked on the project at home because
Unisys does not have a "Wind Stick development office" in Florida.
The home viewer
sees a transparent box with the Unisys logo on top. Beneath the logo
are the distance to the hole, a moving arrow indicating the wind direction,
and a readout of the wind speed in miles per hour. Viewers usually do
not see the stick itself. "Only by accident, because itís not very
pretty," Schroeder said.
With its telescoping
handle fully extended, the Wind Stick stands 18 feet tall. Atop the
pole are a wind vane, an antenna, and a measuring device called an anemometer.
A computer control unit processes the wind measurements, and sends live
readings via a powerful radio modem to a computer in a TV production
Stick bearers rush
ahead of the golfer to set up the Wind Stick a couple hundred yards
away from the hole, out of the playerís site. "it is where the
wind would typically affect his stroke the most which is the trajectory
down, when the ball has lost most of its forward speed," Schroeder
said. Three Wind Sticks are used for most games.
About 50 golf broadcasts
have used the Wind Sticks so far, Fox said. ABC was first. It has also
been used by ESPN, CBS, the BBC, and Britainís Sky TV.
Unisys is in talks
with networks about using Wind Sticks for other sports, such as sailing,
auto racing baseball and football. "Anything that's wind-affected,"
Neither Fox nor
Schroeder plays golf, by the way. Schroeder sails. "That gives
me a little better idea of how the wind works," he said.