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Augmented reality colliding with sport: a win-win for spectators and participants

19th Apr 2017

Despite being neither an Olympic nor a Football World Cup year, 2017 has plenty of sporting highlights to look forward to. There is an Ashes series and a British Lions rugby tour as well as regular summer favourites such as Wimbledon, the Open, and the conclusion of domestic football. Technology plays an important part in how we watch and officiate these sporting events but also has the capability of radically changing the way we participate and engage in sport.

As an illustration of what this future might hold, imagine going to an American football match wearing a pair of glasses which tracks and identifies individual players, displays their statistics and names each set play as it is executed on the pitch. If this idea sounds familiar then you may be thinking of Harry Potter’s Omnioculars which provided similar functionality at Quidditch matches.

Although it seems too magical to believe, recent patent applications reveal that this, and more, can be achieved using augmented reality technology.

Augmented reality combines events in the real world with those in a simulated or virtual world and presents a superimposition of the two worlds to a viewer. We recently reported how the game Pokémon Go implemented augmented reality with huge success. Increasingly, innovators are applying augmented reality to sport which has the potential to bring numerous benefits to both spectators and participants.

One such benefit is presenting an increased amount of useful information to a user. For example, US patent application US 2015379351 A1 describes a heads-up display system which receives information about a sports ball and displays images overlaid on a user’s field of view. The system indicates an objective – say, kicking a football into the top corner of a goal – and identifies where a user should strike the ball to achieve the objective, enabling anyone to score from free kicks with robotic monotony.

The American football example described above is the subject of granted patent US 9610491 B which tracks moving players and identifies a recorded playbook play. Not only is this information useful for spectators, the system can also identify for the benefit of coaching staff any deviations from the recorded play.

The applications of augmented reality in sport are not limited to coaching. Wearable goggles in patent application US 2016/0332059 A1 can identify hazards while skiing or snowboarding and plot a safe course around the hazard. For joggers with no friends, sports glasses in patent application EP 2706395 A2 can display a virtual pace-setter with foot movements synchronised with those of the user. For golfers, granted US patent US 8842003 B describes a method of displaying a distance from a golfer to a target using augmented reality approaches. It is difficult to conceive of a sport where augmented reality could not be usefully implemented.

Although clearly useful for training and analytical purposes, there is no reason why sports officials cannot also benefit from using augmented reality systems. Augmented reality technology could complement recent improvements such as the Hawkeye ball tracking system, which has revolutionised the way tennis, football and cricket matches are officiated by enabling more objective decision-making. It is not difficult to see how augmented reality systems could be used in a similar way. For example, linesmen and referees in football and rugby matches could have a real-time offside line displayed.

Although these applications may seem trivial, according to a recent article in Forbes, the sports industry is projected to reach over $70 billion owing to increased revenue from media rights deals being generated by 2019. There therefore seem to be the perfect conditions for the rapid development of augmented reality systems in sport, which could be spun out to a larger audience in more varied applications.

Time will tell whether sport proves to be a verdant pasture for augmented reality, however it seems certain that increasingly accessible and sophisticated wearable technology will enable augmented reality systems to become embedded into everyday life.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

Bruce Torrance
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Bruce Torrance who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901


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