How AI Will Help Keep Time at the Tokyo Olympics

Maria J. Danford

“In volleyball, we’re now applying cameras with laptop or computer vision technologies to observe not only athletes, but also the ball,” claims Alain Zobrist, head of Omega Timing. “So it really is a blend exactly where we use digicam technology and synthetic intelligence to do this.”

Omega Timing’s R&D section contains one hundred eighty engineers, and the advancement system started with positioning units and motion sensor units in-dwelling, according to Zobrist, in 2012. The objective was to get to a stage exactly where, for multiple athletics at the five hundred-as well as athletics functions it is effective on every 12 months, Omega could present in-depth dwell data on athlete efficiency. That data would also have to get much less than a tenth of a 2nd to be calculated, processed, and transmitted for the duration of functions so that the facts matches what viewers are observing on screen. 

With seashore volleyball, this intended taking this positioning and motion technology and teaching an AI to understand myriad shot types—from smashes to blocks to spikes and variants thereof—and  pass styles, as well as the ball’s flight route, then blend this data with facts gleaned from gyroscope sensors in the players outfits. These motion sensors permit the system know the course of motion of the athletes, as well as height of jumps, velocity, and so forth. As soon as processed, this is all then fed dwell to broadcasters for use in commentary or on-screen graphics.

According to Zobrist, one particular of the toughest lessons for the AI to learn was accurately monitoring the ball in enjoy when the cameras could no for a longer time see it. “Sometimes, it really is lined by an athlete’s body portion. Often it really is out of the Television set body,” he claims. “So, the problem was to observe the ball when you have dropped it. To have the program predict exactly where the ball goes, and then, when it seems again, recalculate the hole from when it dropped the object and acquired it again, and fill in the [missing] data and then continue on mechanically. That was the one particular of the largest problems.”

It is really this monitoring of the ball that is critical for the AI to identify what is going on for the duration of enjoy. “When you can observe the ball, you will know exactly where it was found and when it modified course. And with the blend of the sensors on the athletes, the algorithm will then understand the shot,” Zobrist claims. “Whether it was a block or a smash. You will know which crew and which participant it was. So it really is this blend of equally technologies that permits us to be correct in the measurement of the data.”

Omega Timing statements its seashore volleyball system is 99 p.c correct, thanks to the sensors and multiple cameras functioning at 250 frames a 2nd. Toby Breckon, professor in laptop or computer vision and image processing at Durham College, nonetheless, is interested to see if this stands up for the duration of the Games—and, crucially, if the system is fooled by variations in race and gender. 

“What has been performed is reasonably impressive. And you would have to have a massive data established to teach an AI on all the various moves,” Breckon claims. “But one particular of the issues is precision. How frequently does it get it completely wrong in conditions of these various moves? How frequently does it lose observe of the ball? And also if it is effective uniformly about all races and genders. Is that 99 p.c precision on, say, the United states of america women’s crew and 99 p.c precision on the Ghanaian women’s crew?”

Zobrist is confident, and explains that when it might have been a lot easier to call in Google or IBM to supply the AI know-how needed, this was not an option for Omega. “What is very essential, whether or not it really is for a scoring activity, or timing activity, is that we can’t have discrepancies between the clarification of the efficiency and the final end result,” he claims. “So to guard the integrity of the end result, we simply cannot count on yet another corporation. We have to have to have the know-how to be in a position to reveal the end result and how the athletes acquired there.”

As for future timing and monitoring updates, Zobrist is limited-lipped, but claims the Paris Video games in 2024 will be crucial. “You will see a entire new established of innovations. Of course, it will keep on being close to timekeeping, scoring, and definitely also close to motion sensors and positioning units. And definitely also Los Angeles in 2028. We’ve acquired some really exciting assignments for there that in fact we’ve only just started.”


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