During this week’s Super Bowl LIII events, there will be a host of new technologies on display touting their “cool factor.” Virtual and augmented reality tools are becoming increasingly common in the sports field, as these visual displays can augment the viewing experience for an individual fan or even an entire stadium full of spectators.
One app, the Virtex Arena from Virtex Apps, is a competitive kicking and passing game that fans can play during breaks in the Super Bowl action. The game progresses throughout the real-life game and keeps track of team scores.
For those watching from home, television networks like CBS Sports are using augmented reality to enhance their coverage. Though they haven’t detailed exact plans, they did confirm that four cameras will be dedicated specifically for AR coverage.
While exciting for fans, these are all add-ons — ways to enhance the experience, not improve the game itself. But now, developers and designers are starting to use these relatively new mixed reality technologies to change the actual sport.
Pavol Szorad and Anuj Kudva, both with Accenture’s Atlanta Innovation Hub, are two of those technologists. Accenture was approached by an NFL representative seeking to improve their coaches’ processes with technology.
“We observed them, their problems, what they cope with every week, and one thing that stood out was that, every Tuesday night, the coaches have to sit down and basically map out between 90 and 120 plays,” says Szorad, a Senior Technology Architect who has been with Accenture for 10 years.
“They spend basically all night until the morning to map out all of these plays.” Szorad and Kudva, a consultant, were surprised to see that the coaches were also using pretty old-school methods to illustrate plays — printed presentations with X’s, O’z, and painstakingly-drawn lines, or sometimes just a pen and paper.
“We started with first the idea of digitizing these scenarios… just taking a stylus and an iPad and letting the coaches draw those maneuvers there,” says Szorad.
But that still left the team attempting to visualize the plays based on a 2D, flat drawing. To bring the plays to life, they turned to augmented reality.
The app they developed allows the coaches to draw and edit their plays on an iPad. Once they have the final play, it’s visualized on the tablet with moving player avatars.
Kudva tells Hypepotamus that the app cuts the time coaches spend drafting and displaying plays, and enables them “to focus more on strategy and the essence of coaching and developing the players, as opposed to spending time and labor every Tuesday night drawing these out.”
He also shares that it helps the players better understand and rehearse their maneuvers. A player can use the app to switch perspectives, viewing the play from different positions to see how it would appear from different sides of the field.
“If you’re a quarterback or a wide receiver or running back, what is my perspective, what am I seeing, and where are my fellow teammates, as we’re running this play? It allows them to continue to visualize it in their own mind over the course of the week before the game,” explains Kudva.
The team is continuing to improve the app and test use cases, but Szorad hints that in the future, he foresees a virtual reality version where plays are displayed on an immersive VR headset.
They would also like to eventually add data analytics to the system, so coaches would have a catalog to analyze which maneuvers have done well in the past. That would allow the app to be useful during the actual game, as coaches are choosing which plays to run in real-time.
“The proof of concept is just proving that this concept is real, achievable,” says Szorad. “There are many ways to improve beyond this with extended reality.”