Playoff hockey, on your cell

Sports fans of the future could see their favorite stars in action from anywhere in the world. Thanks to more powerful cell phones and computer-aided video cameras, real-time representations of game action can be sent anywhere in the world, without the costs of beaming a video signal.


The technology, being developed by Dr. Jeffrey Boyd at the University of Calgary’s Vision and Motion Analysis Laboratory, currently employs two off-the-shelf video cameras, three computers and a lot of custom computer programming to track four miniature figures on a 1:32 scale NHL hockey rink. The camera and computer system record players’ positions at all times and can send that information to a cell phone or other screen, which displays a live video game-like representation of the game. A small cell-phone screen can’t match NHL 2004 but player positions are much cheaper to transmit than live video.


With six more cameras, Boyd says the positions and movements of all players on ice can be tracked recorded, and catalogued with the video in real time. With the catalog, Boyd hopes that the average sports fan could dial up something like ESPN.com and pull up all of Iggy’s short-handed goals from his entire career, just as coaches and trainers currently do with expensive equipment. And it would work for other sports, too.


“Computers can do all sorts of things when it comes to recording and manipulating visual data,” says Boyd. “But to get them to interpret it in a way that approximates ‘vision’ is enormously complex.”


Some hockey fans may remember the infamous glowing comet-like swoosh thing Fox tried in 1998. Boyd says his computer vision technology is completely unrelated to the expensive battery-powered Fox puck, which transmitted radio signals to indicate its position.


This summer, Boyd and masters’ student Michael Zhang and undergraduate students Luke Olsen and Maxwell Sayles will install three cameras at the Olympic Oval as a part of the renovations, hoping to commercialize the technology in a few years.


Integrated with security video cameras, Boyd says his system could be more efficient and more accurate in spotting unusual activity than inattentive humans paid minimum wage, although he is concerned about possible “Big Brother” issues.

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