Sports Technology

Match on the Line: Tech Comes to Play

Overview The technology of automated line judges, such as the one used at the recent U.S. Open, could expand further in the sports world.

The 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament, like a majority of events this past year, was unlike those of previous years. A tennis center that had held more than 730,000 fans over the course of two weeks last year sat empty.

Technology has allowed live sports events to continue and adapt in a variety of ways; in the world of tennis, organizers turned to technology that has already been a staple of tennis for years.

In years past, Hawk-Eye — a part of CES® exhibitor Sony — was only used when a tennis player wanted to challenge the decision made by a human line judge.

At the 2020 U.S. Open, new safety measures gave Hawk-Eye a more prominent role, one that may alleviate some annoyances and issues in the future and for other sports as well.

The Ball's in Tech’s Court

For the U.S. Open, all but two courts made the move to all-electronic line judging, reducing the number of people on site amid safety considerations.

With the Hawk-Eye Live, 18 cameras create an advanced system that combines views to produce a 3D representation of a ball’s path. The multiple angles that make up the Hawk-Eye system enable it to be more accurate in its judgments than a single referee or line judge standing at one vantage point. The electronic system then uses recorded voices to make its calls.

In addition to ball-tracking, Hawk-Eye systems can replay video feeds if players challenge its decision.

Good Call: Safer, Fairer, Smarter

Hawk-Eye and automated judging is already used across many sports, including cricket, hockey, baseball and volleyball, but typically as backup for a human decision maker.

In sports, the balls move quickly, and the call of an umpire or judge could be the one that results in a championship for one team or player and a loss for another. The human eye is flawed, and human judging has resulted in many contradictions and player — and fan — dissatisfaction.

In baseball, for example, the strike zone extends from a batter’s knees to the middle of his chest, making it vary with the stance and build of a player. Each human umpire may see the invisible strike zone somewhat differently, given their own heights or vantage points, and those views are likely different from the vantage points of fans in the stands, resulting in contradicting opinions.

A human umpire may also make different calls for similar plays, where a ball in a certain position may be a strike in one play but a ball in the next.

Technology such as Hawk-Eye Live eliminates these inconsistencies. Even margins of error become the same margins of error for both players or teams, making tournaments and games fairer and smarter.

From tracking the ball to providing data-integrated player analysis for coaching, systems such as Hawk-Eye are already improving players’ performance and the game experience. The successful use of Hawk-Eye during the U.S. Open may mean a greater reliance on these automated systems for future games, and even during Olympic events.

Learn more about other ways technology has kept players and teams safe during the pandemic.

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