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Network Camera Maker Shines in Chilean Miner Rescue


Network Camera Maker Shines in Chilean Miner Rescue


In the darkened depths 600 meters beneath the Earth's surface, a video link provided through a Vivotek network camera brought undying hope to countless frantic relatives on the surface throughout their ordeal.



Network Camera Maker Shines in Chilean Miner Rescue

By Elaine Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 458 )

Thirty-three miners in Chile trapped 600 meters beneath the earth's surface for 69 days following the collapse of a mine shaft. Ultimately, they were miraculously rescued, and behind the scenes, a Taiwanese company played a key role.

Deep in the bowels of the collapsed mine, a network camera half the size of a softball with "VIVOTEK" stenciled on the side accompanied the "Phoenix" rescue capsule on its descents into the depths of the mine, sending real-time images of signs of life from the trapped miners back to rescue crews on the surface and simultaneously relaying those images to government agencies taking part in the rescue effort, becoming the only visual link between the trapped men and the outside world. International media like CNN and BBC wanting first-hand images from the mine below all relied on this single, made-in-Taiwan network camera.

The network camera that became the eyes of Chilean rescue crews is a product of the 10 year-old Taiwanese company Vivotek, Taiwan's first company to manufacture network cameras and a top-three global player in that sector.

After getting his start at Chunghwa Telecom's Telecommunication Laboratories, Vivotek chairman Owen Chen entered National Taiwan University's Institute of Electrical Engineering at age 37 to complete his doctorate. He later teamed up with some younger students from NTU's cutting edge laboratories to found Vivotek, bringing their knack for audio-video processing and consummate skill with communications technology to bear in entering the network camera business, an area in which no Taiwanese company had yet succeeded at that time.

That the company has gone from NT$20 million in debt to global sales in more than 80 countries and, most recently, a key role in the Chilean miner rescue drama, leaves Chen deeply moved.

"That another country would put that kind of trust in a Taiwanese brand is of an intangible value for the brand," he says.

At the outset of the Chilean mine disaster, Codelco, the Chilean national copper mining concern that took the lead in the rescue effort, drilled several shafts to deliver food and water to the miners trapped 600 meters beneath the surface while boring larger shafts to accommodate the "Phoenix" rescue capsules to bring the miners to the surface. They early on found that the depth, high temperatures and absolute darkness of the safe zone in which the miners were trapped made transmission of video images exceedingly difficult.

It was then that Codelco turned to Vivotek, which has a 20-percent share of the Latin American network camera market. Vivotek's network cameras offer a high resolution that traditional analog video monitors cannot match and, most importantly, can withstand temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius. William Ku, director of Vivotek's Brand Business Division, believes that ability to overcome the heat and darkness and transmit real-time images from the depths of the mine back to the surface resolved some major issues for Codelco.

Each of the two Phoenix rescue capsules was fitted with a camera, with an additional one installed in the mine below. During the perilous, tense 24-hour rescue process, these three cameras, each half the size of a softball, became a ray of hope in the darkness that sustained the rescue crews working feverishly on the surface, as well as the 33 helpless miners trapped below.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy