Electronic Umpiring: Howzzat?!

Technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, transforming them in previously unimaginable ways. Gone are the days when things like sports and technology were considered two different worlds poles apart. Today, technology has been used to aid in sports training, including equipments like heart rate monitors, wattmeters etc. It has also been used to enhance sporting equipment and improve the field of play. The latest kid on the block however is more revolutionary than any of its predecessors—technology has now taken over the role of the officiator, aiding and at times being accused of replacing, traditional umpires.

With the advent of innovations like Hawk-eye and other visual analysis tools, the world of sports has become so embedded with technology that now, one cannot even imagine accurate judgment without the help of these computerized systems. With the kind of competition that defines sports today, it has become essential for judges to employ accurate assessment when taking vital decisions about the outcome of actions in various tournaments and matches. Missing a slight swing, the bouncing of the ball slightly off the line, or a slight movement of the player can gravely distort an officiator’s decision-making power. Even a split second’s negligence can be fatal here. Many a time, things like the tinniest touch of the ball, movement of the foot etc are invisible to the naked eye of the umpire.

It goes without saying then that assistance technologies prove to be of immense help in such situations. Often called the “Electronic Umpire”, such analysis tools as computerized cameras recording the intricate details of the game, add a whole new dimension to accuracy in the sports. Sports decisions in today’s techno-age are no longer just accurate, they are highly accurate! Once you have the Electronic Umpire scrutinizing the actions and the audience themselves seeing the most discrete moves of the players and the ball in slow motion on their TV screens, the game has now become as fair as possible, eliminating the chance of human error or biases.

One of the most popular technologies and one that has become almost synonymous with sports technologies is the Hawk-Eye innovations. Hawk-Eye first hit the sporting arena in 2001, when it was invented by Dr. Paul Hawkins in Hampshire, UK. Dr. Hawkins who was a former Buckinghamshire player and also a PhD in artificial intelligence was the perfect person to have developed such a technology.

Known to have 99.99% accuracy, this technology can help track any kind of bounce, spin, swing and seam. Roughly half of the LBW dismissals in cricket matches of the previous year reviewed by Hawk-eye when it was first introduced were found to be faulty because in most of those, the ball was seen to have been traveling over the stumps.

How it works?

Hawk-Eye computerized systems operate on the principles of triangulation making use of visual images and timing data provided by six high-speed video cameras located at different angles around the area of play. This innovation uses technology originally used for brain surgery and missile tracking. The cameras placed at various locations throughout the area of play track the path of the ball, from the point it was released to the point where it comes to a stop.

It uses special image-processing systems, incorporating both image analysis and radar technology. Six fixed JAI monochrome cameras, with a 120 MHz frame rate are placed around the playing field and are able to track the ball’s entire trajectory.

This is updated hundred times each second and the images are then processed by software to produce a 3-D image. The system is also able to predict the future path using a parametric mode by locating the ball in 3-D and predicting the motion with a claimed accuracy of 5 mm. In addition to aiding the umpire in his decisions, Hawk-eye is also used to give a more enhanced feed to TV viewers so they can watch replays from various angles on their screens.

Hawk-Eye in Cricket
Initially beginning from Cricket, Hawk-Eye has now diversified into other sports as well. In the cricket arena, Hawk-Eye has been used in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2006 , 2007 World Cup in West Indies among others. It has successfully been implemented in countries including UK, Australia, India, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In the field of cricket, Hawk-eye has helped identify LBWs; determine whether a player is ‘in’ or ‘out’ by predicting the path of the ball and hence determining whether it would have hit the stumps. The technology also helps in generating statistics that can enhance viewers’ experiences.

Hawk-Eye in Tennis
Another popular area in which Hawk-Eye has been implemented is that of Tennis. Having been used recently in the Wimbledon finals, the U.S. and the Australian Open, and the Dubai Tennis Championships, Hawk-Eye’s officiating system again is another example of reliable and accurate decision-making in tennis.

Once again, here Hawk-Eye also uses six high-speed video cameras placed high above the court to measure the trajectory of every ball in a rally. By pinpointing the bounce of a ball to within three millimeters, the technology can measure the skid and distortion of the ball as it hits. It also helps to generate easy-to-understand statistics as in cricket in addition.

Hawk-Eye in Football
Hawk-eye’s Football system is yet another implementation of this technological innovation. In this game, the system is used to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal-line. The technology is even able to capture the ball crossing the goal line for a fraction of a second. By utilizing cameras that can operate at up to 500 frames per second, it is able to capture a ball moving at 60 mph with utmost accuracy.

Hawk-Eye in Snooker
The Hawk-Eye innovators have now developed Snooker Software which provides for accurate judgment in the game. It can show what is in a player’s line of vision when they are taking a shot as well as showing how a shot would have gone had it been played as intended. Once again, the technology provides viewers with an enhanced experience and it allows them to appreciate how difficult a shot is.

Aide or replacement?

There is an interesting theory about technology being extensions of man in that each new technological innovation extends human capabilities in some way or the other. Popular communications theorist Marshal McLuhan propounded this theory in which he emphasized that technology helps overcome human weaknesses and helps man do things that are beyond his capabilities. However, McLuhan cautioned that along with these extensions come the negative effects of technology leading to amputations in that it reduces some human functions.

Strangely, this theory stands very relevant in the context of debates in the sports arena about assistance technologies like Hawk-eye and other analysis platforms diminishing the role of the umpire and in fact making him redundant.

Where on the one hand assistance technology in sports has acted to help umpires in making troublesome decisions quickly and with complete accuracy, it has also reduced the role of the umpire who has traditionally enjoyed much power and prestige in the profession.

Studies in the UK have shown that for difficult decisions umpires have been accurate only 60% of the time, which is a very low percentage itself. Technologies like Hawk-Eye have helped in overcoming these human weaknesses that arise from the umpire not being able to notice discrete moves like a the bounce of a ball off line or the movement of a players’ foot with their naked eye.

Some umpires however have seen the advent of such technologies as leading to a reduced status of the umpire community. Assistance technologies like Hawk-Eye have been called nightmares for umpires and dreams for commentators, since they shift power, attention and focus onto the commentator.

However, this debate does not seem to lead one anywhere as these technologies are now here to stay! Seeing them as reducing the role of the traditional umpire and making them redundant may in fact be an unjust assessment as these technologies essentially ease the task of the umpires, helping them avoid major errors of judgment that come as human weaknesses. Technologies in sports have helped to make the games less dependent on human subjective judgment and have thus lowered chances of unfair results.

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