Technologies scoring at the FIFA World Cup 2018

Technologies scoring at the FIFA World Cup 2018

By Mariam Jomha

As millions of viewers around the world have their eyes glued to their screens, enjoying the sport and cheering for their favorite team, we delve into the technologies and innovations that make the 2018 FIFA World Cup a truly memorable sports event. Here is a ‘behind the field’ look at the technologies in place in Russia, 2018.

Video assisted referees (VARs):

In March of this year, FIFA voted unanimously to introduce the VAR system permanently in the World Cup. The concept, as the name implies, is intended to assist a referee in making more accurate decisions on the field.

A two-way communication system (i.e. a fiber-based radio system) exists between the VAR team and the referee. The VAR team is present in a Video Operation Room (VOR), located in the International Broadcast Centre Moscow. The team consists of a lead VAR, three VAR assistants, and four replay operators. It has access to 33 broadcast camera feeds and 2 offside cameras. Super-slow motion and ultra-slow motion cameras are provided by eight and four of these feeds, respectively. Two extra ultra-slow motion feeds are also available for knockout games. The video below explains more:

The VAR system can be used to correct obvious errors and also in game-changing situations. For example, red cards are a serious matter in the sport of soccer; VAR can reduce the chance that the wrong player will be given a red card. Similarly, VAR can also spot errors in refereeing in regards to player penalties and goals. Regarding “clear and obvious errors”, the VAR team can overturn a referee’s decision, which has sparked quite a bit of controversy amongst fans.

Performance tracking systems:

Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS) is another innovation that was first approved by FIFA in 2015. This technology is a tablet-based system that allows coaches to access video footage and player stats in real time. Three tablets are given to each team, distributed to an analyst on the bench, an analyst in the stands, and the medical team. Teams have access to two select tactical cameras. Data, such as player positioning, speed, and passing is collected by two optical tracking cameras found on the main stand.

5G:

This World Cup, just like the 2018 Winter Olympics, is serving as the perfect place to test out 5G networks and 5G-enabled technologies. The official World Cup communications partner, Megafon, is trialing their 5G networks, ahead of roll-out in 2019. Ericsson and MTS revealed the largest deployment of an advanced mobile technology called Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output). 5G-capable radio equipment has been installed in seven of the 11 host cities at more than 40 sites. The network covers transportation hubs, stadiums, fan zones, and even some famous Russian landmarks.

According to Andrei Ushatsky, VP, Technology and Information Technology at MTS,

“…Massive MIMO technology, using Ericsson equipment, significantly increases network capacity, allowing tens of thousands of fans together in one place to enjoy high-speed mobile internet without any loss in speed or quality.”

Adidas Telstar 18 ball:

This version of Adidas’ Telstar ball is equipped with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip, allowing fans to use their smartphones to access exclusive content. For the players, however, this doesn’t mean much. Unlike other smart balls, this ball cannot provide detailed information on kick strength or headers. However, it is one step closer towards smarter future versions, as previous smart ball attempts were never durable enough for the game.

Design-wise, a major change from a standard ball is with the panels. This design has 6 panels (rather than 32) that are glued together (rather than stitched). Unfortunately, the sleek looking ball has been subject to a lot of scrutiny due to some performance issues, most recently the ball losing pressure in the Saudi Arabia/Uruguay match.

Left: The Adidas Telstar ball used in the 1970 World Cup. Source: Adapted from  Shine 2010 – 2010 World Cup good news under CC license. Right: The Adidas Telstar 18 ball used in the 2018 World Cup. Source: By Дмитрий Садовников (soccer.ru) [CC BY-SA 3.0GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

For the knockout matches that start June 3oth, the Telstar 18 will be replaced with the beautifully designed Telstar Mechta (meaning ambitions in Russian). The Telstar Mechta has similar tech features as the Telstar 18, but a more intense appearance of black and red tones, in tribute to the Russian flag.

Adidas Telstar Mechta. Source: Adidas

Ultra-high definition broadcasting and virtual reality (VR):

The viewing experience this World Cup is extra special with the launch of the 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) innovation. This technology enables broadcasters to benefit from a 4K feed and transfer the experience to viewers who have compatible TVs. At the last World Cup, Brazil 2014, trials for 4K were run but broadcasters were not given the opportunity to broadcast in 4K.

For UK viewers, the 4K feed is being streamed on the BBC’s iPlayer platform and not over a 4K channel. For the BBC, this will be a trial to test their ability to deliver the 4K UHD content on demand. For US viewers, it’s much more simple. The 4K UHD experience can be enjoyed on Fox Sports for nearly half of the games.

Hisense took advantage of the event and launched its World Cup Special AI 4K ULED TV. The TV is equipped with facial recognition technology and can recognize the 1,000 different players seamlessly. It’s also equipped with voice recognition. Yu Zhitao, head of smart TVs at Hisense explains,

“There’s the graphics-based interaction experience, which helps the TV know what it’s showing. Voice recognition means the TV can understand and comprehend what the consumer says. Content provided through AI TVs is limitless, and finally they use algorithms and technologies to represent the original graphics and pictures in different scenarios.”

Conclusion:

Each major sports event seems to be the herald of a number of groundbreaking technologies. FIFA 2018 is not the first to undergo both a technological and digital transformation, and it certainly won’t be the last!


If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help you with your innovation challenge, please contact our High-Tech lead, Lee Warren at lwarren@prescouter.com.

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