All eyes on the ball

All eyes on the ball

5G makes livestreaming and real-time analysis of hockey possible

Making livestreaming and real-time video analysis of a hockey match possible using unmanned, wireless and smart cameras via 5G? A pilot in 2021 has demonstrated that can be done.

As part of the pilot during the EuroHockey Championships, the European Hockey Federation and its infrastructure partner Recreational Systems International (RSI) collaborated with specialists from the 5G Hub in Eindhoven.

The European Hockey Federation, the umbrella organisation for the hockey associations of European nations, recently set up EHTV+, a platform for livestreaming matches on the fields of 118 European hockey clubs. This is one of the fields in which it is collaborating with RSI, a supplier of modern sports infrastructure. The idea is to use an automatic camera system for livestreaming matches, as well as for video analysis by the hockey clubs of their matches.

No more cables
Analyses of hockey matches are still conducted at present on the basis of images that are recorded by manned cameras with fibre optic cables; a costly procedure. In April, RSI already successfully experimented with a cabled, but automatic, camera system alongside a hockey field in Belgium. After getting into contact with the 5G Hub, the idea was born to replace the cables, as well as the camera operators, through use of a wireless automatic camera system on the basis of new 5G technology.

Better quality
Mobile wireless cameras are cheaper and easier to move. In addition, 5G provides higher-quality livestreams that are no longer dependent on the local, physical connectivity at the hockey clubs, which is often not up to scratch for livestreaming hockey matches with multiple cameras.

Smarter cameras follow the ball
Richard Prins, Technical Lead at the 5G Hub on behalf of VodafoneZiggo, explains how the 'hockey process' was done further: "RSI developed a configuration with three cameras alongside the field: two cameras, both of which detect the movements of the players and the ball on one half of the field. That information is sent to a central server, which analyses the information very quickly on the basis of an algorithm in which artificial intelligence is incorporated. The players are recognised, the ball is recognised, and in this way the computer determines where the game is taking place. It sends control signals to a third camera alongside the field, which makes specific images and zooms in."

Limiting latency
"The ball travels very quickly in hockey. One of challenges RSI faced was latency: the delay in the network. That had to be as low as possible", continues Prins. "We tested that on the 5G Hub prior to the EuroHockey Championships. We hung up cameras and hit a ball back and forth. Our measurements showed that we could keep latency under the limit values set by RSI."

Testing in the hustle and bustle of the EuroHockey Championships
Having become enthusiastic, RSI asked the 5G Hub to test the use of unmanned, mobile AI cameras in a pilot during the EuroHockey Championships in the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen, just two weeks later. Three wireless mobile cameras were mounted at a height of 12 metres in a video tower. The performance of the network during the livestreamed matches could be followed in a 'control room' in the Novotel in Amsterdam. Prins: "You have a stadium with 4,000 spectators. Anyone who is taking pictures or making videos there causes considerable mobile network congestion or even overcongestion. If you then want to send camera images over the network, how do you go about doing that?"

Network in slices
A new 5G technology was introduced for that, namely network slicing: "We can reserve and guarantee a 'slice' of the physical mobile network's resources, in this case for camera use. We needed a slice with at least 20 megabits per second upstream speed. That slice was activated locally on two transmission masts close to the stadium. You provide the SIM card of the routers used with a specific slice ID code for the activation of such a slice. Furthermore, we made use of a mobile edge. Edge computing is also a 5G technology, which involves placing processing power and data storage capacity closer to the camera location in order to cut response time."

Triple celebration
It was a triple celebration in Amstelveen. The pilot went extremely well, and the Dutch men and women won the EuroHockey championships. Prins: "The total acceptable latency in sending the images, the processing of these images and the subsequent control of the camera alongside the field is approximately 200 milliseconds. We showed in both the 5G Hub and during the EuroHockey championships that we could remain under that latency with our solution. The board of the European Hockey Federation responded enthusiastically and RSI immediately asked us to supply this application to more European hockey fields. Wireless mobile cameras that are linked to artificial intelligence software will be used in the near future for livestreaming of hockey matches and for tactical match analysis on the basis of those video images."

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