Sporting challenge

A stadium linking the physical and digital worlds so that spectators at a game or event can enjoy the same technical benefits as those watching at home is to be developed by researchers at Glasgow University.

A stadium linking the physical and digital worlds so that spectators at a game or event can enjoy the same technical benefits as those watching at home is to be developed by researchers at Glasgow University’s Department of Computing.

Project partners include Microsoft Research and Arup Group, which have recently helped design Beijing’s Olympic Stadium.

According to researchers, last year 36 million people in the UK attended at least one live sport event. However, spectators suffer from what the Glasgow team term a viewing paradox: while the visceral experience of seeing players, teams, and athletes is great first-hand, this can be compromised by its up-close nature.

Shared video clips

‘People watching at home don’t feel part of the game, but have the advantage of being able to choose services such as viewing footage from different camera angles or even catching up on a different game,’ said project leader Dr Matthew Chalmers.

‘We are exploring how to let people interact at a ground, such as by sharing video clips, pictures, or even footage of their favourite goals using something like a Bluetooth network.’

The messages could be passed through the crowd from person to person like a Mexican wave.

The project will act as a test-bed for new computer science techniques such as mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) epidemic algorithms, and the use of commodity hardware such as Bluetooth- enabled camera phones.

These technologies will be applied in the form of two stadium technology concepts, which will be built and tested with spectators at a host of live events, with lessons drawn back into understanding how to design technology for crowds of spectators.

One instance where it might prove especially popular would be if there was a suspected bad decision, so fans could send pictures of players’ positions to each other. ‘The referee might not like that, though,’ Chalmers added.

The project is to combine ethnographic studies of spectating with the design, building and trial of prototype communications systems. These studies will explore in depth the nature of sport watching and participation, identifying new areas for technology design.

During this, the researchers will look at people in stadiums and factors including how they use their camera phones. Preliminary research has already shown that existing technology does not support how spectators would like to interact with sports — for instance, the large screens pass information, but do not help spectators to talk to each other as they would wish. They also do not have access to filmed content such as action replays that people at home may benefit from.

One of the aims of the research is to develop mobile technologies aimed at situations other than the workplace. Most new technology is primarily aimed at business.

The project follows on from the £12m Equator project, which is coming to an end. This explored the use of mobile technology and shared content among people in museums and galleries.

Public popularity

However, this latest project will develop the networking technology further and discover which parts are popular with the public, and which parts remain unused.

‘The technology has been lab tested but not in the wild on this scale,’ said Chalmers.

The network will be designed this winter and tested next spring.

Though some work will be carried out using Bluetooth, the system is relatively slow. It is therefore hoped the final system will be based on WiFi communication, even though it is not yet as widely used. The team expects, however, that given technological advances, by the time the research ends, WiFi should be relatively ubiquitous.

Though the football, rugby or athletics club could in future host the system rather than an independent organisation, Chalmers said that to be a success, the system must balance what spectators want with the club’s wish for marketing opportunities.

To make people interested in using the technology, he said it needs to develop from a grass roots perspective so that it becomes tailored to what users want to do or see, rather then centring on commercial needs.