Technology is a critical part of many industries, and professional sports is no exception. It can reduce referee errors, gain near real-time insights from the field or augment the fan experience. The challenge, however, is to gain this value without impacting the game.
“The goal is to deliver 100 percent accurate information immediately,” says Mike Krell, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.
Technology is providing value to referees and crew chiefs in sports, as crucial data is sent from cameras and sensors to analyze critical moments, such as whether a goal was made, an out-of-bounds line was crossed, or a foul was legit.
Line detection technology is used in sports such as hockey, American football, tennis, football (soccer) and basketball. Even in sailing, sensors detect a wind position and help people align sails to best take advantage of the wind, Krell noted.
Sensors also monitor the landings of athletes in gymnastics to determine whether they are clean. Red Bull Media House is working to incorporate Intel’s Curie technology in athletic gear, and gymnasts have demonstrated the technology, which incorporates real-time sensors to track them as they move.
The key issue with referee decisions in sports is not only the accuracy but how long it takes to come to a decision, noted Krell.
“The issue on a lot of this stuff is the amount of time it takes to get a response,” Krell said.
Often it’s unclear whether a decision is based on technology or the official, he noted.
“What we do know is the faster you can get a response, the better off you’ll be; the more things you can see and measure, the better off you can be,” Krell said.
Starting with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, GoalControl, a company based in Germany, has been focused on helping referees better determine whether a goal has been scored.
The company’s platform consists of 14 cameras, mounted on the roof and catwalks, which track the position of the ball in 3-D.
Cameras capture data from the goal line and send signals to Dell servers. In less than a second, vibration and optical signals are then sent to referees’ watches. The officials find out whether a goal has been scored or not and make their call.
The French Football League (Ligue 1) recently began using GoalControl technology for the 2015/2016 season.
Wearable technology is just the beginning of possibilities for GoalControl in the Internet of Things, according to Björn Lindner, co-founder and chairman of GoalControl.
GoalControl plans to expand its platform to use cameras to track players, so referees can decide if a player is offside, Lindner said.
The future will see a greater emergence of the IoT, he noted.
“A lot of sports and also football are thinking to integrate more technology, wearables for example, chips that can provide data,” Lindner said.
He continued, “You see more and more sensors being developed that you can connect to our system with the cameras. Bringing it all together and helping the referees, getting more data to the audience, content we can stream in real time, that’s a tremendous market opportunity.”
“Racing is in your blood, especially if you’re as competitive a person as I am,” says Dr. Eric Warren, director of competition at RCR Enterprises, a stock car racing company in Welcome, North Carolina, owned by former driver Richard Childress.
To keep that competitive edge, the RCR team gathers IoT data from sensors on a driver’s steering wheel and compares it against other car parameters. RCR also creates computerized models of the car, and each time a car has a pit stop, the team collects data as well, which gets sent to a Dell Edge Gateway 5000 Series and then a Dell Statistica analytics platform.
“Fundamentally what’s happening in car racing is there are thousands of measurements being taken on a real-time basis on all pieces of the engine and the car, and at some place they have to roll that data up and turn it into something that allows crew chiefs to make decisions on a real-time basis,” Krell said.
Warren recalls how the insight gained from the platform helped RCR Racing during a 2015 race in Charlotte, North Carolina, to make some adjustments to Austin Dillon’s car.
“We looked at the relationship of Austin Dillon’s effort and some of the things in the past and saw a correlation with a particular setup parameter that we had not been thinking about so we made an adjustment for that,” Warren said. “The performance was greatly improved.”
At RCR, a vehicle dynamics simulator allows the company to keep track of a car’s air dynamics, brakes, steering and mechanical characteristics.
“We’re comparing the performance and response with the actual measured values of the racetrack,” Warren said.
An end-to-end solution from Dell OEM Solutions consists of the gateway, PowerEdge R610 servers and SonicWALL GW Primary Network Security Appliance.
“By all those parts being able to work together, it really increases the power of the data exponentially,” Warren said. “We’re only tapping into the very beginning of what that power is.”
The Dell Edge Gateway 5000 Series allows the company to use video and different sensors while Statistica delivers data to the crew chiefs in real time. RCR uses the gateways in the pit box to allow the crew chiefs and engineers to monitor car data during a race.
Gateways pull data from the cars back to the company’s servers in North Carolina in real time. The crew chiefs then monitor data on a tablet or laptop on a real-time basis.
“You need to move a wide variety of data from many sensors in the car,” Krell explained. “The whole communications channel, including the gateway, is absolutely critical to making real-time decisions at the speed of racing.”
From analyzing IoT data, the RCR team can see patterns of when pit stops at the first part of the race are faster than those at another part of the race.
“So you really are able to look at the correlation of that data in a much broader sense that we weren’t able to do before,” Warren said.
RCR monitors the pit stop gun that puts the wheels on and off, sensors that indicate when a lug nut was hit and when the car is jacked up.
“Each bit of that insight you can get into the race that you otherwise wouldn’t have had is an opportunity for performance and actually success,” Warren said.
From tennis to rugby, officials have a lot more to work with as far as cameras, signals and data to improve their decisions, and more IoT innovation will be coming to sports in the future.
“We’ve certainly come a long way in terms of being able to provide real-time information to officials to make decisions in a time frame of relevance,” Krell said.
RCR wants to expand on the data it gathers from the pit stop to include drivers’ vital data such as heart rate.
“You can see if a pit crew member over the course of a race is getting hot or if he is missing the performance of his pit stop,” Warren said.
The challenge is to look at the stress level of the driver and try to understand how that correlates to what’s going on in the race and how the car is performing.
RCR is looking to collect key data on a car’s condition, information about the car during the race and historical information about the vehicle.
The company plans to work with Dell to eventually place gateways in the cars. Information from the gateways can be sent back to crew chiefs, Warren said.
“The more we can take all that data and actually compile it together and get value out of it, the better we perform on the race track and the more we see results in our performance,” he said. “In a high-performance business, understanding your data and being able to react to it quicker than your competitors will make you win.”
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