Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Technology in Sports

I was recently asked by a reporter from the Discovery Channel about technology in sports. Specifically, she wanted to know the top ten ways in which computer technology is changing sports. Here was my response:

Generally speaking, technology in sports can be divided into three
subareas. One is in entertainment or more audience based
augmentations. One other is for refereeing. The final one is for the

For entertainment, most of the technology has to do with analytics
augmented sport broadcasting. Additional analysis of the the play
action in real time by analysts using technology has now become a lot
more common place. Line calling in Tennis, freeze frame analyses in
Football. The tricky part of this is that the technology isn't always
well-accepted. The most common example of this is the augmented
hockey puck that was rejected by audiences. The style of presentation
of the trails was quite universally hated.

For refereeing, much of the analytics that are being applied for
audiences are also being used. This is by far the most controversial,
because the traditional sense of "during course of play", the
immediacy of judgments of the referee during the action are essential
parts of many sports games. The augmentation of call reviews in football
took many years to settle down. In soccer, one company in Europe is
augmenting the ball and players to have better triangulation of the
position of each object during play (for better line calls, scoring of
points, etc.)

For athletes, it's probably the most interesting. Much of the
development here has been around body sensors. One interesting idea
(done by both Philips as well as others now) is the use of heart rate
monitors for runners. By monitoring the beat, the music player can
change the music speed to match the desired stride. This was detailed
in a special issue I edited in IEEE Pervasive Computing.

Other interesting sensor work that I've heard recently include:
(1) sensors for helmets (PARC is involved in impact sensors for
soldiers, but it should have sport applications too). My own work on
using impact sensors for judging in Taekwondo is an example of this
kind of technology applied.

(2) sensors for pressure in ski boots. The idea is to be able to
detect weight distribution on the ski boot to see if the techniques
are correct.

(3) sensors that help feedback into the equipment for better
performance. There were some skis and snowboards with active
vibration reduction.

(4) sensors for fatigue (in deciding when to 'sub' someone in soccer).

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