A potted history of sports refereeing technology
Sports technology is an inescapable presence, and the key that has turned competition into such big business. As TechCrunch reports, a survey of industry experts revealed that the technologies set to have the biggest impact on sports are in the area of fan engagement. But in terms of the amount of discussion generated, the application of technology to refereeing comes out a clear winner.
The on-going Rugby World Cup has not been immune from controversy, with criticisms that referrals to the television match official (TMO), or video referee, are excessive and that the viewing of slow motion replays makes incidents seem more serious than they do in real-time.
In association football, the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) has seemed to generate a constant stream of griping, but that hasn’t stopped their inclusion in the 2018 World Cup and this season’s Premier League.
Previous introductions of technology to football have been less controversial, such as the widely appreciated goal-line technology capable of determining whether the ball has crossed the line of the goal and therefore counts. That was officially included in the rules of the game in 2012, two years after the infamous decision to disallow Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup.
The major provider of that technology is Sony’s Hawk-Eye, best known for the image triangulation technology prominently used in Tennis to determine precisely where the ball hits the court.
What these innovations have in common is their claim to be able to make objective, definitive decisions, removed from the subjectivity of a human perspective. Replays are mediated through human perspectives, allowing one person to see an offence where another sees nothing. Beyond this, the notion of a margin of error rears its head. A figure of 3.6mm is bandied about for Hawk-Eye, an impressively small but potentially pivotal distance.
Regardless of these troubles, the technologisation of sports is only set to intensify, as Fujitsu’s announcement that it is using AI to judge Artistic Gymnastics proves.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”