Tech & Innovation
How augmented reality could change how we experience sports

Sports and technology have a long history. The way we watch sports has changed dramatically thanks to technological advances; we now can see the speed and location of a pitch in a real-time graphic and no longer have to wonder where the first down marker is on the football field. Advances have also helped referees and officials make calls more accurately. Almost all sports utilize some sort of video replay to correct certain decisions by refs, and on court/field sensors are being used in tennis and soccer to determine the placement of a ball. During his talk at TED2014, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe told the elite audience that he believes there’s no reason to doubt that these two popular worlds won’t continue to collide. He thinks the next wave of technological advancement in sports could be none other than augmented reality.

Kluwe began by going through the history of technology in sports, mainly in his former sport, football. It’s hardly an advancement in technology, but in 1965, the Baltimore Colts were the first team to equip their quarterback with a wristband that had a shorthand version of its playbook on it. Soon, all teams followed suit. Then, in 1994, the NFL began allowing the use of radios inside the helmets of each teams quarterback and one player on defense; players were now able to communicate in real-time with their coaches who were on the sidelines or in a booth high above the stadium. These advancements helped players become more efficient, and since technology has proven it can give teams an advantage, clubs are going to look for more ways to do so. As Kluwe noted, in sports, winning is the only thing that ensures one’s job security.

So what could be on the horizon for football players? Kluwe envisioned that, perhaps by the year 2023, players would no longer have to memorize their playbooks and individual assignments. By then each player’s helmet visor will display the next play and where they need to be on the field. Soon after that, quarterbacks may be able to see graphics on their visor telling them which receiver is most open and where pressure from opposing players is about to come.

So while technology is being used by teams and leagues to track statistics and player performance more accurately, it will continue to enhance the fan viewing experience. Kluwe believes that the possibility of augmented reality could be a game-changer for sports fans, putting them in a fully-immersive experience by not just showing them what it looks like to be on the field of play, but perhaps what it feels like. Kluwe posits that this will happen eventually because we have the tools to make it happen…and the profit motive to make it desireable.

Kluwe is an advocate for human rights, and his outspoken support for gay marriage has (unfortunately) not exactly helped his cause for finding another job punting in the NFL. So it’s natural that he ended his talk by wondering how augmented reality could be used beyond the sports and entertainment worlds. If augmented reality can show somebody what it feels like to be on a football field during a game, couldn’t it be used to foster more empathy in the world? The possibility of people being able to walk in someone else’s shoes, nearly literally, holds some very powerful potential.

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