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Wimbledon 2016: Tennis tech serves up cognitive AI and Climacool clothing

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

When you watch the Wimbledon 2016 tennis championships this year, you might not be aware of all the technology working hard behind the scenes.

There’s Hawk-Eye ball-tracking, of course, and tennis fans have the option to watch the grass court action on TV, via the Wimbledon website or using a dedicated mobile app.

But technology also allows viewers to dig deeper. Last year, a partnership with IBM helped to number crunch 3.2 million data points from 19 courts during the 13-day tournament, tracking everything from serves, volleys and rallies to the number of winning shots hit and errors forced, all in real-time.

Wimbledon 2016
The Wimbledon website, powered by IBM, can update match scores quicker than the scoreboard on Centre Court. Credit: Florian Eisele / AELTC.

Wimbledon 2016 will also see computing technology get a boost from machine learning. According to a BBC report, IBM’s Watson platform could be linked to cameras to monitor facial expressions in an attempt to determine a crowd’s emotions.

“If Watson learns quickly enough over the fortnight, it will apparently be able to work out which player you are supporting just by reading your face.”

Alongside the stat-streaming SlamTracker, new for 2016 is a dedicated Apple TV app and new iOS/Android apps. There will also be a Cognitive Command Center, which will sift through millions of social media updates each day, identifying hot topics (not necessarily tennis-related), emerging themes and popular players using natural language processing.

Babolat Pure Drive connected racket
The Babolat Pure Drive connected racket incorporates sensors to track swing, rotation and speed.

It’s not the only tennis technology that might be used at Wimbledon 2016. Although Rafael Nadal will miss the 2016 championships with a wrist injury, he’s an advocate for the accelerometer, gyroscope and piezoelectric sensors built into the handle of the Babolat PLAY AeroPro Drive racket.

Using these sensors, the Babolat PLAY can help a player track how many hours they’ve spent on court, the shots they use (forehands versus backhands, for example), as well as mapping where each shot hits the racket. This data is transmitted via Bluetooth to the PLAY app, which can then be viewed and analysed to improve technique.

The Babolat racquet is one of 12 technologies on the International Tennis Federation’s list of approved Player Analysis Technology (PAT) products. Others include the Artengo Personal Coach, BigBow Basic Sensor and the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor.

Adidas Climachill technology
Adidas Climachill technology features aluminium cooling spheres and a fabric woven with titanium.

Crucially, while tennis players can use sensors to monitor their play, they can’t use the data during a competitive match. The ITF rules state that: “There shall be no access to the information that PAT devices generate during a match by a player, except when play is suspended and when coaching is permitted.”

Another technology you might not notice is embedded into the clothing players wear. Adidas Climacool and Climachill sportswear, for example, features aluminium cooling spheres on the back and neck, microfibre meshes to carry water away, ventilation holes and titanium-infused flat yarn, designed to transfer heat away from the body.

Look out for Caroline Wozniacki in the Adidas Fall Stella Barricade Primeknit Dress and Angelique Kerber wearing the Adidas Fall Climachill Tank and Skirt.

Put all these elements together and Wimbledon 2016 should be the most high-tech tennis tournament ever held down in leafy SW19.

Main image credit: Chris Raphael. All rights reserved.

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