Hawk-Eye – leading the way for technology in tennis
Back in 2007 the Australian Open was the first grand slam tournament to implement Hawk-Eye to settle line-call challenges, using six or seven high-performance cameras positioned in the stadium roof to track the ball from different angles. This solution uses intelligent software-triangulated data from multiple cameras to create a 3-D representation of the ball trajectory. The system has been widely adopted (and with much less controversy than the recent introduction of data-rich VAR technology in football!)
But that’s not the only place the Internet of Things features in tennis.
Professional players are collecting data via the rackets they use – to provide vital insights on technique. Prior to this technology being available, it was all down to the player and coach to appraise how hard the ball was being hit, how much spin it was given and whether the ball was being played off the sweet spot in the centre of the racket. But emerging IoT technology has taken the guesswork out of the process – delivering precise information to athletes, with quantitative information that helps to improve their game.
It took a while for smart rackets to take off – the main challenge being that despite the introduction of sensors – the racket had to feel natural in the player’s hand. The tech had to be developed for lightness, low power consumption – and of course to withstand the shock of repeated powerful impact, without impeding performance.
One of the leading (publicly available) brands – the Babolat racket - includes a 6 axis motion tracking device, a 3 axis accelerometer sensor and associated electronics – in a package that is just 4 x 4 x 9mm and weighs just 1 gram! By miniaturising to this extent, they produced a racket where the centre of gravity was not affected. This helped with uptake of the product, because whilst players desired in-game insight, they did not want their ‘baseline’ style to have to change, simply to accommodate the device itself.
With tech in the racket, the player can receive data to a smartphone or other device – providing general information such as the length of rally, number of shots per minute plus the number of forehands, backhands and serve data. But the devil is in the detail – so info on swing power, ball speed, percentage of spin on the ball and impact location on the racket gives the athlete valuable intelligence to begin to make tiny adjustments in technique that can translate to competitive advantage on court. Moreover, the data is saved and analysed to track performance over time – enabling a whole new dynamic in coaching and training.
The International Tennis Federation has allowed the use of smart rackets on their courts in professional matches since 2014. So, the chances are that
all the competitors you see on your screens are tracking each and every shot they make in minute detail for post-match review!
Fully IoT enabled courts
But it’s not just the racket where the IoT features in tennis. For Wimbledon wannabes, smart court systems such as Playsight and Mojio have been installed for quite some time at venues across the UK and USA – and whilst the technology is not considered to be as accurate as the Hawk-eye, they are accurate enough to make line calls at a much lower price point than the Wimbledon system.
Other companies are looking at methods of making the entire court surface tactile in order to make the whole tennis court interactive. With sensors installed directly into the surface of synthetic and resin courses, any movement – of ball and players – can be detected and displayed on screen in real time. Whilst this is yet to be implemented in the public eye – the wealth of data and insight that this kind of system can deliver into the sport is likely to move the game – and the level of commentary on it – forward at a pace.
AI improving the experience for fans
Whilst not strictly Internet of Things – it’s also worth noting that AI features heavily in match video capture and reporting. IBM has been a main supporter and promoter of Wimbledon for nearly 30 years – but these days it’s IBMs Watson that is responsible for augmenting the armchair viewer’s enjoyment of the action on centre court and elsewhere at the tournament.
By analysing thousands of data points and pages of unstructured text from multiple real-time social sources, IBM are providing automated video highlights. Watson has even been taught to recognise player emotion and can output an AI produced highlights programme in under 5 minutes. Moreover, the team are expecting the number of championship views to shoot up from 115 million in 2017 to a whopping 201 million in 2025. And if the player and audience response data is being captured at this level already – it’s only a matter of time until data from these sources and the on-court IoT are integrated create brand-new products and solutions to enrich the game even further.
A connected future for sport?
With the wealth of data and technology infusing tennis right now, it’s easy to imagine a future where we’ll be able to see player performance information in real-time taken to a whole new level. Plus viewers at home could (in theory) enjoy the action with a court-side perspective, with the use of Virtual Reality glasses.
We may well raise a Pimms this week to toast the tradition of tennis at Wimbledon. But IoT innovation is clearly in play and continuing to transform the way that play unfolds on the courts and on our screens.
As an investor in IoT innovation, we like to keep a close eye on innovations in this space. Our portfolio already includes wearables for sport and for industrial applications. One of our portfolio companies is even transforming agriculture with wearables for cows! Take a look at our full portfolio of companies
here. So if you’re an early stage IoT business, looking for investment and operational support to fast track your innovation to market and scale, we’d like to
hear from you.