Spanish football clubs are cleaning up in European soccer, but it’s not only their ball skills that give them an edge. Technology is playing a major role, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The secret of Spanish club football success is out. Or, at least, one of the secrets.
It turns out, it is no coincidence that Spanish teams have taken six of the eight berths in UEFA Champions League finals over the last four years – and won the trophy on all four occasions. That’s as many times as they had won it in the rest of the century before 2014, and as many as in the 40 years before that.
Last week, during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, LaLiga, organisers of the Spanish premier football league, lifted the lid on the technology that is giving their clubs an edge. The intention of the demonstration, presented at the stadium of Espanyol, Barcelona’s less-known LaLiga side, was to showcase the state-of-the-art broadcasting technology used by the league to reach 2.5-billion viewers a year. However, they also revealed the tools provided to trainers and clubs for fine-tuning their teams’ performances.
“The aim is for fans not just to watch matches, but to be immersed in an exclusive audiovisual experience,” said Joris Evers, LaLiga’s Chief Communications Officer. “Additionally, LaLiga is unique in providing all its clubs with valuable tools to assist coaching staff and make our teams even better.”
At the heart of the enhanced tactical understanding of Spanish club coaches is a tool called Mediacoach, described as “a suite of cutting-edge match-analysis tools and services”. It was developed by Grupo Mediapro, LaLiga’s broadcast production partner, and provides coaching staff – of all LaLiga teams – with the data to carry out in-depth analysis of their players’ performance as well as opposition tactics.
This may help explain how a team like Atletico Madrid, long regarded as the underdog to iconic sides Barcelona and Real Madrid, could reach two UEFA Champions League finals in the last four years, as well as winning the Europa league twice this decade. An even less fancied side, Sevilla, won the Europa league three years in a row before Manchester United interrupted their run last year.
Why haven’t fabulously wealthy leagues like the English Premiership embraced the technology? It’s not for want of data. In the United Kingdom, Opta collects a massive dataset, live, for the Premier League, but the emphasis is on delivering content to football fans and to the betting industry. The Premiership itself is notoriously slow to adapt to trends, and club managements and coaches are so old school, they would not be out of place in the ealry 20th century.
This is ironic, since broadcasters as well as the Premiership’s own Fantasy League have embraced the use and visual representation of such data.
However, LaLiga takes it to a new level, and constantly looks for ways to add value to the fan experience – with knock-on benefits for coaches. During the showcase at the RCD Espanyol Stadium, these technologies were demonstrated:
“The visual experience on offer to fans of Spanish football has taken on a different dimension thanks to the 4K HDR broadcasts that LaLiga serves up for the two headline games of every matchday,” according to LaLiga. “A total of 20 HDR cameras are used for this purpose, although substantially more are incorporated for special occasions like El Clasico (Barcelona vs Real Madrid), major derbies and key matches in the latter stages of the season, when cameras mounted on helicopters and cranes are among the additions.”
LaLiga claims to be one of the few sports competitions in the world to be broadcast in HDR, and the results are evident: a constant rise in the number of people watching, and growing sales of HDR televisions to football fans.
The RCDE Stadium is a live showcase for the Skycam – an innovation first seen in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup Finals. Essentually, it is an aerial camera located about 21 metres above the pitch to provide overhead footage and a bird’s-eye view of the action.
“The lofty vantage point, coupled with the camera’s ability to spin and travel at great speed, means it offers a special perspective of the pitch,” says LaLiga. “These cameras are compact, high-definition models with a 4/3, 14x zoom wide-angle lens, whose footage is transmitted from the pitch to a mobile unit via fibre-optic cables. They can cover an area of almost 7 000 square metres. During the pre-match build-up and post-match aftermath, as well as at half-time, the three technicians operating the Skycam position it at a height of 3- 10 metres in order to treat viewers to even more detailed shots.”
Intel True View
Intel True View is not a new technology, but its use is evolving rapdly. It allows 360° replays that allow every piece of play to be reproduced in 3D. This gives TV viewers a unique perspective of the action from any angle.
“The 2D videos from each of the 38 cameras in place at the stadiums are processed through a series of powerful Intel servers, allowing for replays to be viewed from any position or angle,” says LaLiga. “This technology is in use on a regular basis, with the system having been installed permanently at the Camp Nou (FC Barcelona), the Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid), the Wanda Metropolitano (Atletico de Madrid) and the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (Sevilla Football Club).”
In December, during this season’s first El Clasico clash between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, LaLiga also premiered a “Be The Player” feature, which puts the viewer in the middle of the action, using the same technology to capture events from the perspective of a player in a specific play. This makes it possible to see what moves a player could have made, or the level of vision displayed by a player in making a specific shot or pass.
The same softare includes a new feature, the Laser Wall, which overlays a virtual wall on the pitch to give a clearer picture of offside positions.
Live 3D graphics
LaLiga offers viewers Live 3D graphics during broadcasts to complement live match data, representing visual support to the data, and displaying tactical and positional analysis during action replays.
The next big thing for LaLiga is virtual reality content, which in effect began with the December El Clasico match. It was filmed with a set of two 360º cameras and four 180º cameras, allowing for both 3D and 2D content. However, the current state of VR imaging, which does not yet offer photo-realistic visuals, means that the 2D experience remains more satisfying.
Next week, when Barcelona face Chelsea in the second leg of their round-of-16 UEFA Champions League clash, both teams will hope to break the 1-1 deadlock from the first leg at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. But clearly, at Camp Nou, the visitors will be up against more than merely the best club side in the world.
Hi-tech reinvents the massage
Virtual reality is invading the world of health and beauty – or is the other way round? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers a new role for VR through the ancient art of massage.
Imagine you are sitting at your office desk, stretched by deadlines and stressed by office politics. A minute later, you are sitting on a idyllic beach, watching the sunset, and someone is gently massaging your neck.
That’s probably a common fantasy, but now it is also a reality, thanks to the next big step in massage therapy. The ancient art is being transformed by virtual reality (VR), with massage clinics and therapists the world over discovering the transformative power of the technology.
In South Africa, the revolution is led by a company called Sheer Bliss, which works in the corporate space, mainly visiting company offices and call centres. The massage is quick – typically 6 minutes – but the combination of working the most stressed muscles and offering a brief escape to a beach paradise amplifies the experience.
Massage therapy goes back in history several thousand years, first as a sacred form of natural healing in India and later to pamper royals and the rich in ancient Egypt. These days, it is democratised, at least if you can afford it. But thanks to VR, it can now become a mass market experience. Sheer Bliss conducts an average of 27,000 massages a year, with teams in Johannesburg, Cape Town and KZN. Its mobile massage concept means it can also cater for conferences and large sporting events.
However, it’s not so much a case of VR saving the massage industry, as massage giving VR a boost, by providing a wonderful use case for its practical application.
“We needed to find something new to offer our customers,” says Nadine Hocter, founder of Sheer Bliss. “At the same time, we were looking at a way to future-proof the business. I was really lucky in that a group of MBA students at GIBS were given Sheer Bliss for their innovation project.
“We spoke about various ways of making our original massage more immersive. VR was mentioned, but it was in a meeting with a client who wasn’t biting that we sold the idea. Without realising it at the time, our business moved into a class encompassing the 4th Industrial Revolution.”
Visit the next page to more about how Sheer Bliss became the first virtual reality massage therapy business in South Africa.
Drones fight forest fires
The South African forest fire season began a month ago, and an estimated 20807 hectares of land were burnt in the Western Cape.
With such rampant and regular breakouts of forest fires, the quest to contain them before they cause widespread destruction, including property damage and loss of life, remains an issue of high importance for non-governmental organisations and the relevant government agencies. Equally important is the need to safeguard against the loss of the lives of firefighters during missions to contain these blazes.
As this continues being an issue, mainly because of the dense vegetation found in the Western Cape, coupled with the dry weather that is typical for this time of the year, the need to use unmanned aircraft to fight fires is ever increasing.
Drones are particularly crucial for forest fires that tend to get out of control quickly and that put both pilots and crew at risk. There’s only a small containment window between when the fire starts and when it gets out of control. Drones give firefighters a bird’s eye view of the terrain and helps them determine where the fire moves next so they can swiftly make decisions about where crews should go and who should be evacuated.
If you’re a firefighter responsible for forest fire response, mitigation and rescue, the benefits of drones are immense. We’ve detailed the main 4 benefits with supplemental stories below.
1. Drones Gather Situational Awareness in a Short Time
A drone helps you decide within minutes the type and amount of resources to send to the scene. Some drones are also equipped with thermal sensors, which uses infrared radiation to help first responders locate heat signatures of humans and fire hotspots that show where fires are most likely to spread. Even before your personnel arrive on the scene, commanders are able to make decisions just from these images live-streamed to their computers.
In early December whilst fighting a blaze, SanParks made use of a DJI drone with an infrared camera to capture images of the Rocklands fire in Simonstown.
In a similar incident in the German town of Hechingen, firefighters had to fight against winds that were spreading to nearby wooded and populated areas. The creeks had dried out while the first fire truck that arrived carried only 2,000 liters of water.
Hechingen’s Fire Brigade deployed DJI’s Matrice 210 ruggedised commercial grade drone, a Zenmuse XT thermal camera, and an X4S high definition visual imaging camera. These fed information to the incident commanders and helped them know where to direct their resources, how many units to send and where to increase water supply. At the end, the crew extinguished the blaze with only 5,000 liters of water mixed with compressed air foam. The drones not only helped them save water but more importantly hastened reaction time helping the Brigade send crews faster to the scene with the exact manpower, units and supplies.
“The biggest advantage came to light during the search for hotspots and extinguishing them,” Hechingen’s Fire Chief Commander Bulach later told DJI, “The simultaneous deployment of the XT and X4S provided me with exact information about where to delete the hotspots and how long until we reached a safe state.”
2. Drones Protect Your Personnel
Drones help you monitor your crew to make sure you’re sending them in the right direction, that they’re safe and to help you determine whether to send backup forces.
On 13 August 2017, Yosemite firefighters battled a 9-day blaze in Southfork, California, that was complicated by weakened timber trees in the nearby region. Flying planes in the tight canyons was dangerous due to a bellowing column of smoke. At the same time, an unexpected thunderstorm spread the fire, blurring the firefighters’ primary containment line and threatening to spread to nearby villages. The Yosemite fire-force used a DJI drone with the Zenmuse XT thermal payload in their pre-shift early morning hours to map fire lines and livestream information to controllers for operational decisions and situational awareness. Tony Eggiman, Menlo Park FPD Fire Captain recalled, “the operations major told me later it brought his blood pressure from about 200 down to about 100. He was really happy.”
With aerial intelligence captured by drones, incident commanders can make better-informed decisions that keep firefighters safe while they plunge into fire and other dangerous spots to save other peoples’ lives.
3. Drones Enable Fast Mapping for Incident Response as Well as for Post-Incident Recovery
Drone solutions for forest fire response typically carry two different cameras: a visual camera and a thermal camera. The visual camera gives you a real-time view of different situations, able to easily spot things such as your fire team or nearby equipment. The thermal camera scouts for heat signature of the human or fire hotspots.
Drones fly lower than helicopters, providing a more nuanced picture of the situation, and can navigate in tight or dangerous spaces where no helicopter pilot would dare to go. With thermal imaging capabilities, they can locate hotspots at a fire scene within seconds, and see people trapped even in areas of thick smoke.
Drones also play an important role after the fire has been put out. During the Carr Fire, crews piloted low-flying drones to capture 360-degree images of the destruction. For the residents forced out of their homes, this provided invaluable information on property damage to assess insurance claims in a faster time, letting victims more quickly take steps to rebuild their lives.
4. Drones Give you Accurate Intelligence for Informed Decision Making
Wildfires often involve large-scale operations where the incident commander must make decisions on personnel and resource deployment. Drones are effective intelligence generators that can capture detailed data and information from the field, and live stream back to the command centre. By having that real-time aerial view, you can see exactly what’s happening and don’t have to rely on second-hand information. You know what’s going on and where. You can also monitor your crew to see their location and that you’re sending them in the right direction.
Drones allowed firefighters of the Gaoming district, Foshan in South China to expertly evaluate 960 people when a fire broke out on Lingyun Mountain near the area, December 12, 2019.
The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual (M2ED) was flown out within minutes of the response team’s arrival at the incident for fast situational awareness. Two minutes later, the Matrice 210 V2 drone platform was launched, giving detailed information with its sensor’s 30 times zooming ability. The Mavic gave responders their quick incident overlook, while the Matrice provided detailed, high-resolution images for thorough situational awareness. The combination saved more lives, protected firefighters, and shaved firefighting costs.
As Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Battalion Chief Richard Fields, program coordinator, told the Board of Fire Commissioners in a March 2019 report, “Timely and accurate communication is essential in getting the right resources in place to mitigate an incident.”
Drones have gained a foothold in the sphere of public safety and forward looking government agencies are expanding their use in areas including environmental services, public works, transportation and rescue services. Download DJI’s whitepaper to explore the Best Practices For Deploying Drones At State And Local Government Level.