Intel diving into sports tech with new gadgets

Sports are getting a big injection of technology this year from chip-making giant Intel.

The Santa Clara company, better known for the chips that power PCs and data centers, is charging into the sports world by providing the engineering for some revolutionary gadgets.

It’s part of a trend that began with step-counting smart bracelets and has exploded into innovative technology that is expected to make a difference in how people view or take part in sports. Some of it will find its way into the homes of sports fans this year, while other innovations are still being prototyped.

Among the latest gadgets that are or will be powered by Intel:

– A kind of 3-D technology that lets TV or PC viewers see a play from any angle.

– A button-sized module that athletes and viewers can use to track an athlete’s performance.

– A virtual reality headset, still in prototype, that someday may let a viewer virtually walk around on a sports field to view a play from any angle.

– Smart eyeware from glasses maker Oakley with built-in audio and sensors that coaches users during a cycling or running workout, with advice on performance and running and pedaling techniques.

– A digital sports watch, with the athletic shoe company New Balance.

– Last, but not least, high-performance computing and data analytics for sports medicine.

“Getting all this information is great, but at some point, telling people how many steps they took is not very useful,” said Steve Holmes, vice president of smart device innovation at Intel. “You need to do something with it to help them improve their outcomes.”

Two items that have gotten Intel some attention recently are a technology called freeD and a tiny module called the “Curie.”

The Curie is a complete system in a package, with sensors, computing and connectivity. It is about the size of a button, battery included.

“We can provide an end-to-end digital experience that can transform sports,” Holmes said. “We can put a Curie right on an athlete, design the radio that takes information off it and hands it to the cloud, take the information from the servers and write the software to turn it into meaningful information.”

The module was demonstrated in January during the men’s Snowboard Slopestyle Final competition at the X Games Aspen. Attached to snowboards, its built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer, GPS and a tiny neural network recorded competitors’ speed, distance, height and g-force as they landed after flipping and corkscrewing through the air. The results were broadcast along with the video on ESPN.

“For the first time, viewers could see how far the athletes were jumping, how much they were rotating, how hard they hit the ground,” Holmes said. “It really will connect the fan to the athlete in a much more fundamental way.”

Intel and Red Bull Media House have announced a partnership to incorporate Curie modules in some of its extreme events such as “free running,” an acrobatic running competition that involves death-defying flips, spins and jumps.

Intel also has been working with a small Dallas company with an office in Newark called Replay Technologies, started four years ago by former Israeli defense rocket scientists who developed a kind of 3-D viewing for selected moments in football, soccer, basketball, baseball and other games.

Replay calls it “freeD.” It’s been around for a couple years, and anyone who watched the Super Bowl or the NBA’s All-Star Weekend on TV would have seen a few freeD clips.

The close collaboration between Intel and Replay “is for them to look into how they can forward the technology,” said Replay spokesman Preston Phillips. “They’ve made a push to be more commercial, to say ‘Hey we’re more than a chip maker, we’re the fun guys.’ ”

Phillips said Intel’s powerful processors are cutting the time it takes to produce a clip. Being able to view a play from any angle you chose on your PC is coming soon in the form of an application that will allow viewers to freeze a play and watch it from any vantage point.

“We don’t have the app out there yet,” because negotiations are still taking place with the leagues, said Jeff Hopper, Intel’s general manager of immersive experiences.

Creating and editing these clips takes a lot of computer power, which is why Intel is involved. Replay places many cameras around the court, diamond or football field, and the number crunching to assemble a freeD slice of a game takes place on Intel’s servers.

“We’ve installed systems in (selected) stadiums for all the leagues,” said Hopper. One is Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. At each location, a dozen or so clips will be posted online for each game.

“The leagues are interested in the system for future officiating,” he said. “It gives you unlimited views anywhere on the field, for any play. You can see both the ball in the glove and the foot on the bag simultaneously” and spin the view to see it from any angle.

Down the road, Intel is experimenting with a virtual reality device that would allow the fan to literally freeze the action and walk around on the field.

“If you wanted to go right out into the middle of the field and look at the play as if you were the quarterback, you can do that. The data is super-huge, but it’s the kind of problem we love to solve,” Hopper said.- Dayton Daily News (Ohio)

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