Game On: Pro Sports Go High-tech with AI, Vision Solutions

Artificial intelligence is becoming a critical part of many industries from healthcare to manufacturing, and now it’s tackling sports organizations. The NFL, NBA, and MLB all are using AI and computer vision technology to improve their games.

Image credit: PitchCom Sports

The great American pastime is getting a high-tech assist. Major League Baseball pitchers are getting ahead in the count with an on-field transmission system from PitchCom Sports. This season, MLB players will be wearing PitchCom transmitters and receivers, which allow players to communicate with each other without using hand signals, physical signs, or verbal communication.

A catcher can call pitches using buttons on the transmitter, which is worn on an armband. The call is sent via secure radio waves to a receiver, which the pitcher wears on a wristband, baseball cap, or glove. The catcher’s helmet also has a receiver. The goal is to prevent sign stealing and to speed up the pace of the game.

The PitchCom system can be programmed with types of pitches, locations, defense strategies, and other play information. It supports multiple languages and voices. PitchCom also enables coaches to communicate with players on the field. All players with the receivers can hear the instruction as well.

Field Safety

The National Football League is using AI to improve player safety. The NFL teamed up with Virginia-based Biocore and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create a Digital Athlete. Using AI and machine learning, this virtual representation of a football player can be analyzed to predict—and hopefully prevent—injuries on the field.

Biocore applies finite element modeling, musculoskeletal modeling, and statistical shape analysis to understand and mitigate the risk of injury on the field. The NFL maintains a slew of data points, which can be applied to the Digital Athlete alongside AI, machine learning, and computer vision models.

Using the Digital Athlete, the NFL can simulate plays and their impact on players. The NFL can assess player activity, equipment, speed, weather, and other factors culled from thousands of hours of NFL video. Each factor can be analyzed and virtually adapted to assess the impact on player health and safety.

Image credit: NFL

The technology allows the NFL to evaluate how a different helmet or cleat might protect against injury, or how various field surfaces and weather conditions increase health risks. Ultimately, that could result in improved safety initiatives, such as changes in equipment, rules, and coaching practices to protect players. It also enables the NFL to build personalized training regimens and recovery plans for individual players.

Stats, Stat!

The National Basketball Association has started using AI to collect statistics on college players to assist in scouting. In 2019, the Orlando Magic was the first team to use AutoStats, developed by Chicago-based Stats Perform. AutoStats uses AI and computer vision technologies to pull player-tracking data from broadcast footage.

With AI-enhanced body recognition technology, AutoStats can identify a player’s position and movements on the court. It tracks goals, attempted goals, court location, assists, and other data to build a statistical analysis of each player. With the later integration of OpenPose technology, AutoStats tracks additional factors such as body position, shot form, and torque.

The Magic staff used that detailed information going into the draft. According to Jeff Weltman, president of basketball operations for the Orlando Magic, AutoStats gives the team a competitive advantage when looking at draft picks, and it played a role as the team determined which players to draft, including the decision to draft point guard Cole Anthony in 2020.

Stats Perform provides additional AI-based analytic solutions, including SportVu and BodyShots. BodyShots tracks players’ movements during all phases of a 3-point shot, enabling teams to glean information about shooting styles and body positioning during made vs. missed shots. SportVu enables real-time player tracking in professional sports arenas. Cameras in the rafters collect data during live games and provide teams with up-to-the-minute player, team, and game stats.