i3 | January 22, 2019

Another Dimension for Sports Fans and Athletes

Murray Slovick
Woman with Virtual Reality

Mixed reality (MR), which seamlessly blends a user’s real-world environment with digitally-created content, is finding a foothold in the sports industry, attracting new fans and amateur athletes by harnessing the latest digital technologies.

For example, leveraging technology developed by Second Spectrum, Steve Ballmer, chairman of the L.A. Clippers NBA team, rolled out a new augmented reality (AR) viewing experience for basketball fans on opening night of the 2018-19 NBA season at Staples Center. Called Clippers CourtVision, the system uses computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI) and AR to analyze the action on the court and displays on-screen annotations and animations as the game unfolds. This provides fans with as much information as they would get from their home TV.

CourtVision offers three modes: Mascot, Coach and Player. In Coach Mode, fans can watch plays drawn on the screen as they develop. Player Mode shows real-time advanced statistics, such as the probability of a player making a given shot. In Mascot Mode, the system generates fun animations when a big dunk or a three-pointer happens.

Clipper season ticket holders can also test CourtVision’s customization features, including the choice of seven different camera angles in the arena including baseline, center court, backboard, sidelines and jumbotron.

For those not attending, Oculus Venues launched live virtual reality (VR) events this year, showcasing sports games or music performances without a subscription. And VR livestreaming startup NextVR is streaming 26 NBA League Pass games in immersive 3D via its own app, available on major headsets.

Making Practice Perfect

There are many physiological, biomechanical and psychological elements to consider in any attempt to improve athletic performance in competitive sports. Regardless, repetitions matter.

Coaches are finding that within a training regimen, video playback often does not permit the in-depth analysis needed to isolate important kinesiology factors. Interactive, immersive VR, however, can overcome these limitations, fostering a better understanding of sports performance and accelerating a player’s training program in a realistic environment.

This can be beneficial to back-up players in team sports such as football. If you assume that in any given football practice 100 offensive snaps are taken, most of those snaps probably will be given to the starting quarterback, with the second- and third-string players getting much less. But by using VR, teams can tape snaps from different angles to create a real-time perspective of the plays, which they can then watch again in virtual reality. It allows any player to do additional mental reps during the season.

Instead of relying on animated or computer-generated images to simulate game-like situations, companies such as the Silicon Valley-based STRIVR — which is also using virtual reality to train employees at Walmart and other companies — rely on video of each team’s individual players to create customized experiences.

STRIVR records practice plays using a 360-degree camera positioned where a player would stand on the field, allowing players to watch that play later using a VR headset to get extra “virtual” reps.

Perfecting Your Shot

NEX Team Inc. is a mobile AI company started by former Apple, Google and Facebook engineers and employees. It helps casual basketball players improve their game via HomeCourt, an iPhone app that uses AR to track and make your basketball shot. Using only an iPhone camera, HomeCourt can measure variables like shot trajectory, shot height, release angle, release time, body position and number of shots made.

January/February 2019 i3 Cover Issue

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