We have a lot of sports fans on our staff here at Connected World magazine and, therefore, we get pretty pumped up about covering all the ways connected devices and the IoT (Internet of Things) intersect with the games we love to play and the ones we love to watch.
In the past, we’ve written about sensor-enabled technology systems in soccer and tennis; and we’ve even tackled the technology within an F-1 racecar, which has more technology than most people would ever imagine. We’ve also written about connected helmets in contact sports that can help detect dangerous hits on players to help prevent concussions.
It was only a matter of time before the NFL (National Football League) would take a much closer look at how the IoT and big data could play its part. Last year, you might recall we reported on Zebra Technologies and the NFL announced a partnership that would equip football players with RFID (radio-frequency identification) sensors and the stadiums with RFID readers.
That means each football player now has a small RFID sensor embedded in his shoulder pad that is capable of collecting and transmitting all kinds of useful data. The data collected includes a player’s precise location on the field, as well as various types of “motion-performance data,” such as a player’s speed and direction.
The goal, of course, is to use this completely objective data to access realtime insight into the action taking place on the field of play. The stats collected on the field are then aggregated and processed in the cloud.
Finally, software in the backend applies algorithms to convert the raw data into something coaches and sports broadcasters can use to announce gameplay, and make the fan experience, better.
While the Zebra/NFL partnership was applied during the 2014 season, not much was different—at least from the outside looking in. However, perhaps we just might see changes in the very near future.
And here’s why. As we have learned from the enterprise space, asset intelligence is just too important not to use and maximize. In sectors such as retail, industrial, manufacturing, construction, healthcare—you name it—operational visibility has become key to being successful in whatever a company is doing and it overall success.
Let’s look at this way. What if all your company is doing is playing football? What if the assets you’re monitoring aren’t refrigerated goods, but really football players? Consider the Zebra sports solution as just a vertical-specific asset-management solution. In other words, the asset intelligence gained by the Zebra solution can be used the same way a more traditional business owner would use data about more traditional assets. It all comes down to improved decisionmaking. Coaches can leverage the data to make informed personnel decisions, to strategize about upcoming plays, and quantify athlete performance.
Consider this point, the technology is bringing the power of realtime data analytics to the sport of football even if we can’t completely quantify all the benefits just yet. What’s more, if the NFL was using the IoT perhaps last year’s overly publicized “deflategate” incident with Tom Brady and the Patriots might have turned out completely differently.
If you don’t follow football, “deflategate” refers to the scandal following the 2014 AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots were suspected of tampering with the footballs that were used in that game.
Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated published an exposé-type article that revealed how officials check ball pressure before an NFL game. Sports Illustrated claims the footballs are in the officials’ possession until “just minutes before the start of the game,” at which point they hand the bags to ball boys on each side of the field. Despite this newly foolproof plan, we all know this new plan is still not a foolproof solution.
It seems to all of us in the IoT space, how can the IoT prevent this from happening again? Realtime pressure monitoring of game-day footballs would prevent any future deflategate situations, in my book.
Just like we continuously and remotely monitor ambient conditions of oil rigs, or how we continuously monitor the air temperature in a baby’s room, we should continuously monitor a football’s inflation during the big game.
If the NFL had incorporated the IoT into its game plan from the beginning, the issue of fairness of the inflation look a little different today. And who knows, perhaps it might not have resulted in Tom Brady going to court and giving football yet another black eye. If IoT was really put to good use, the NFL commissioner could have just pulled up some historical data and determined exactly how inflated those footballs were before, during, and after a game.
So if we go back to our original point about the Zebra Technologies solution, it will be truly interesting from a fan’s point of view to see how the solution changes or does not change the football-viewing experience. Perhaps it’s all about the IoT!
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