The Internet of Sporting Things

By | 4 minute read | July 10, 2017

Summer is a heady time for those of a sporting persuasion. With vicarious glory to be gained from the Masters, Wimbledon, Tour de France and cricket (to name just a few) fans are spoilt for choice, and not only in the number of events available to them. With the rise of multiple viewing platforms and ever-more-personalised content options, viewers have unprecedented access to real-time information from the very nuts and bolts of their favourite sports.

A plethora of IoT technologies are bringing sporting fans closer to the action than ever before. Real-time insights generated from connected stadiums and even connected athletes are changing coaching styles, training approaches and the way fans engage with what they are seeing. We’ve already seen how Wimbledon is embracing the IoT, so let’s take a whistle-stop tour to discover what the connected world is bringing to some of this summer’s other athletic endeavours.

Drones, VR and connected stadiums give cricket fans a deeper experience

To those who would place cricket squarely in the ‘stuffy’ category, it may come as a surprise that the sport has been something of a pioneer where the IoT is concerned. Most notable among the technological accolades so far is the Decision Review System (DRS), comprising audio, video and Hawkeye analysis.

Cricket, it seems, is ripe for IoT disruption. Long games that end only when daylight fades introduce the possibility of many game-changing variables: How and when will the wicket break up? To what extent will the ground surface alter with constant use throughout the day? Will the weather change, and how should that determine order of play and bowling strategy?

From a fan’s perspective, real-time insights into the way these questions affect the game could be fascinating. The International Cricket Council (ICC) agrees, and is working with Intel to make this year’s ICC Champions Trophy the first ever ‘smart cricket’ tournament. The competition, which takes place in London, Birmingham and Cardiff, will feature VR, drones, connected stadiums and even batting sensors in a bid to bring the sport alive for fans.

The first of the three IoT offerings is drones, which will review the state of the pitch and feed back this data to broadcasters and commentators, who can pass it on to interested fans. It could also be useful information for captains in determining how surface conditions affect the state of play.

Meanwhile, a booth at The Oval will trial a VR simulation that lets fans imagine what it would be like to come up against a professional bowler. And last, but most certainly not least, is Batsense – a mini device that sits on the handle of a bat to measure impact angle, power and speed. This information is analysed and fed back to an application to be displayed in dashboard form.

Connected bikes at the Tour de France

The Tour de France this year is working with Dimension Data to collect data right from the riders’ bikes. Around 600 lightweight sensors (accommodating 200 cyclists once bike changes are accounted for) will be secreted under the seats, transmitting data to planes and helicopters overhead.)

As many cyclists want to guard their personal performance metrics and prefer not to don wearable devices, an under-seat sensor and transmitter is a good compromise – allowing for real-time data collection around speed, altitude and gradient changes without giving too much away to the competition.

The race data includes approximately 75 million GPS readings, stage data such as rider names, team names and current classification, and environmental data like maps, terrain and localized weather. For fans, this means live performance information on their screens and access to a live-tracking website, developed to support 17 million viewers.

The Tour de France is not the only cycling event benefiting from IoT technology. In preparation for last year’s Olympic Games, the IBM jStart team designed a digital training solution for the USA Cycling team. The solution pulled together all data sources that were part of an IoT solution into a single dashboard, giving the team real-time, actionable insights that helped take them from fifth place in world competition to a gold medal in the 2016 World Championship and silver in the 2016 Olympics. And all in just 11 months.

IBM brings auto-curation of highlights to the Masters Golf Tournament

Selecting the highlights from thousands of hours’ worth of sporting footage is a huge challenge, especially when fans are waiting eagerly to catch up on the day’s key moments. The Masters is no exception, with reels of footage generated by 90 golfers playing multiple rounds over four days. There’s video from every tee and every hole, plus multiple camera angles to contend with, all of which needs to be sifted for potentially usable clips.

To help reduce the time it takes to produce highlights clips, and the IBM iX design team have come up with a system that automatically curates individual shot highlights in order to create golf highlights packages. The system is trained to assess broadcast videos in real-time and identify possible highlights based on markers such as crowd noise, high fives, fist pumps (or other gestures), specific words within the commentary that might denote excitement (obtained from the Watson Speech to Text API), TV graphics and optical character recognition, which extracts text from images to identify which player is in which shot.

The result is an auto-curated highlights package that can be reviewed by an editor before being shared with fans, dramatically reducing production time.

Learn more

This is just a quick glimpse into how the sporting IoT can enhance fan engagement and provide athletes and coaches with real-time, actionable insights from data. If you’re interested in how cognitive computing can enhance athletic performance, take a look at our website and speak to a representative and discover the game-changing power of IBM Watson IoT.