[LINK] IT at the Australian Open Tennis

Tom Worthington tom.worthington at tomw.net.au
Mon Jan 25 14:37:28 AEDT 2010

Greetings from the Australian Open in Melbourne. IBM have flown me down 
as part of their "Insight 10" (Twitter tag: #insight10 ) to show off the 
systems used for supporting the tennis.

This all started late last year when I had a phone call from Ogilvy 
Public Relations Worldwide asking if I would like to be one of a small 
group of opinion makers. This sounded like a scam, or at best "cash for 
comment". It was explained that there would be no cash, which made it 
sound worse: why would I comment for free? However, I thought I would 
see what it was all about.

Some months later I got an invitation to the tennis. I don't actually 
like tennis, but was promised a look behind the scenes at the computer 
system used for the scoring and statistics, which sounded more interesting.

So here I am in the IBM corporate tent (an air-conditioned, carpeted 
tent). There is quite a buzz outside with people draped in Australian 
flags for Australia day.

We were all handed a HTC Android phone, running a the "IBM Seer" app. 
This is an augmented reality application which takes the image from the 
camera, the location from the GPS and the direction from the digital 
compass and overlays the scene with information about the venue. AT the 
tennis this shows things link which arena is which and where the toilets 
are. The application is a lot more usable than I expected, but has a few 
limitations. The HTC screen is not readable in the bright Melbourne 
sunshine. The text on the screen is too small for me to read.

At court side there are sensors and people with PDAs recording 
statistics on the tennis matches. I had assumed this would be just the 
score, but there is a radar system for recording the speed of the serves 
and people to enter the style of play. This data is transmitted to 
servers around the world, logged in a database and provided to the TV 
and web systems.

We then went down under the main courts where the public are not 
permitted. There in a room in the basement of the building, in a 
concrete lined room with a ziggurat ceiling (the underside of the 
stepped seating) was a room full of equipment with some very relaxed 
looking IBM technicians. I noticed the servers are mounted in SKB 
transportable shock mounted racks in stackable containers (as used for 
military IT systems). The people running the system travel around the 
world to different sporting events, taking the equipment with them.

Back at the VIP tent we were shown the tennis home page, which is only 
available in English (there is also an iPhone app available in multiple 
languages). One internal applications shown was the one used for 
scheduling the matches. This was refreshingly simple, with no graphics: 
just a grid of text, emulating a whiteboard. One problem with this is 
that to indicate a player is about to go on their name changes from blue 
to green. This needed to be changed to give some other indication for 
those who are colour-blind.

There was also a screen showing how much energy the system was using. I 
would have liked to see more of this, but my fellow Insight10s got very 
excited by another display analysing the online response to the event. 
This display scans blogs, tweets and other material online which mention 
the Australian Open and assess what is said. This .looks at what 
sponsors are mentioned and if the sentiment is positive or negative. 
This seems t be why I am here, with the aim of having me blog something 
which ends up in the positive category.

After lunch there was an entertaining tennis quiz, using "clickers" 
(hand held feedback devices, as used for quizzes in schools). There 
there were questions and answers by John Fitzgerald (ex-professional 
tennis player).

Last official part of the day before watching tennis was question and 
answer with the people from the IBM Atlanta Innovation Centre who look 
after the sporting application. They said I could ask anything so I 
asked if the Australian Open home page complied with Australian 
accessibility law. The last time I was involved with an IBM supplied 
sport system was the Sydney Olympics, where I testified in the Human 
Rights Commission that the web site was not accessible to the blind. The 
IBM people took this rather heavy question quite well. They said that 
the site was designed against IBM's own internal guidelines as well as 
other accessibility guidelines. The major difficulty for a sport such as 
tennis is complex multidimensional tables which update in real time. The 
answer to this is to provide micro updates. This reduces the bandwidth 
required for all users. Fir those with a disability it is possible to 
provide a text based running commentary and which s much like the 
scoring you hear on the TV broadband of the tennis. There is also a 
mobile version of the site, which we tried on an iPhone and which looked 

ps: While IBM don't provide it there is also a system with eight cameras 
tracking the ball for enhanced display on TV.

Links in blog: 

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