Technology and the future of sports
The first use of technology within the sports world was urine testing. Now there is talk of holographic athletes and virtual arenas at the 2021 Japan Olympics. Here’s why athletes and the entire sports industry are so interested in 5G.
It’s the women’s tennis final at the 2021 Olympic games: the first player swings a mean serve, player two returns with a powerful backhand, a spectator walks on the court to take a better look, except the game doesn’t stop and security isn’t rushing to remove the spectator. This is because the spectator is watching a holograph of the game happening in real time: they can see the ripples of the athletes’ muscles, the angle of the backhand, all from the safety of their own home.
With the development of 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic still a very real issue, this version of the Olympics may not be as far away as we think. Athletes will be able to compete against each other in the stadium, but the big crowds of spectators will remain at home. But how is 5G different from preceding mobile network generations?
The fifth generation of cellular technology is certain to revolutionize the sports industry. Compared to 4G, 3G, and all preceding data connections, this new generation of mobile network promises exceptionally improved speeds, little to no lag time, unprecedented connection stability, superior reliability and resilience, and drastically improved traffic capacity.
“This technology is a game-changer for business, the economy and [countries] as a whole. It has the potential to transform the fan experience, change the way sports organizations operate, open up new revenue opportunities, and help athletes improve their fitness and training programmes,” says director of Vodafone Business UK, Anne Sheehan. “Sport is an area where 5G technology will have a huge impact.” (1) But what kind of impact can we expect?
James Haskell, former professional rugby player for England and the Wasps, started playing when technology’s impact on the sport was limited to urine testing. Now, he has seen sport technology improve to top-of-the-range GPS heart-rate monitors and detailed player statistical analysis. “Data and technology have become crucial parts of a professional sports team and its players’ lives,” Haskell says. “Data collected about players includes all of their performance metrics — how far they’ve run, the tackles they’ve made, and the G-force of collisions they’re involved in — and real-time information about training sessions.”(2) And while tactical, physical, load, and video analysis are guaranteed to improve with the implementation of 5G, what else can we expect to improve in terms of athlete tracking?
Much like the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, the 2021 Olympics in Japan is set to use technology to enhance athlete and spectator experience. Virtual reality coverage is set to be used for a select few sports. Artificial intelligence will also be used to extract 3D motion from camera feeds. It will then overlay insights and data to enhance 3D athlete tracking.
Kevin Hasley, head of product at RootMetrics, said that “greater 5G data speeds will enhance performance tracking … For team-based sports, where digital communications channels exist throughout an event such as a Formula One race, 5G could be the difference between first and second … whether you’re a racing driver, jockey, sailor or golfer, 5G will enable athletes to train virtually under more realistic settings, meaning professionals can continue to refine their skills despite the bad weather that may have previously prevented them from training outside.” Halsey added, “The greater data speeds and increased connectivity that 5G brings with existing VR equipment will allow zero-latency training and uninterrupted practice, which mimics the conditions of a course or track.” (3)
Not only is virtual reality set to be used for the athletes, it is also set to be used to help the Tokyo Organizing Committee (TOCOG) train staff, prepare for disaster situations, and manage the venue as a whole. Tokyo is planning to use virtual reality to construct virtual reality as an immersive training for the staff. Using virtual reality will allow venue managers to simulate evacuation scenarios, practice for the new queuing system, and simulate other scenarios that would help better prepare the staff for the event.
Intel and NEC are also working on a new system that will allow Olympic organizers to use facial recognition for volunteers, staff, media members, and the athletes. This is sure to allow smooth event organization and reduced fraud (4). Eventually, other event managers will be able to use this same technology to improve their own event safety and staff training.
If sporting-events are required to shut down due to the spread of coronavirus, a spokesperson for NTT said that by 2021, “holograms could even be used to allow spectators to watch certain events from different, more safe, locations.” Furthermore, by 2021, NTT is “planning to develop the technology so that it will project even more realistic, ultra-high-definition 8K video of the athletes.” (5) The Olympics have always been a technology accelerator, and is “an ideal platform to trial breakthrough innovations and accelerate adoption world-wide,” says Rick Echevarria, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Olympics Program (6). Olympic spectators around the world should be able to use VR headsets to walk around the stadium during the Tokyo opening ceremony and watch their favorite sporting events from the best angles.
5G is certain to not only completely change the way we previously experienced the Olympics but is sure to revolutionize the sports industry as a whole. With an astounding number of positives associated with 5G, what are the negatives? With more technological advancements comes more EMF-radiation exposure. However, the use of EMF-protection devices allows us to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of EMF exposure while still enjoying everything that 5G has to offer.