A known goal

A UK university aims to create a radio tagging system that can track the movement of sports players to within a few centimetres.

The system, which could revolutionise refereeing and sports training regimes and give TV viewers instant access to real-time data from live events such as football matches, is being developed at Bath University.

A project team of engineers and sports technology specialists hopes to build a radio frequency (RF)-based system incorporating electronics, signal processing and human motion analysis.

Each player and the game ball would carry a tag with a unique electronic signature. A network of transmitters and receivers around the pitch would track and triangulate the movements of up to 40 players, plus the ball, to an accuracy of within 5cm.

The Bath researchers also plan to develop a processing and display system that can present the data collected in a form suitable for training purposes or strategy analysis.

Project co-ordinator Prof Alan Bramley said current analysis of play elements such as a player’s position, speed, distance covered and height jumped relies on watching video footage, often carried out manually after the event is over. Such analysis, he claimed, is time-consuming and only capable of limited accuracy when measuring distance and speed.

A system able to provide automatic real-time data would have several applications. ‘You could see how fast someone is running, how much ground they are covering and what they are doing in relation to the rest of the team,’ said Bramley. Broadcasters could use the system to relay highly accurate player statistics to viewers within seconds of an event taking place on the field.

The Bath team will also explore the possibility of monitoring physiological functions such as heart rate via the RF system.

The use of technology in team sports – especially as a refereeing aid – has aroused considerable interest. Several projects around the world are seeking a solution to the problem, but Bramley said his team’s proposal was as advanced as any and pointed to the considerable technical challenges involved. ‘We are talking about tracking a whole team and a ball continuously for 90 minutes in three dimensions,’ he said.

He also urged caution over hopes that technology could provide an instant answer to all refereeing dilemmas in sport.

Bath has talked to several potential end-users, including equipment manufacturers, the BBC and sports governing bodies. Bramley said he was keen to involve further potential partners, particularly broadcasters, and hopes to secure grant funding for further development.

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