TechMunch: Hawk-Eye meets AI: Wimbledon gets techy

This week marks the first of the annual two week tennis extravaganza to hit SW19 and reignite the nation’s interest in tennis. For lovers of strawberries, cream and Pimms everywhere, the first two weeks of July and the return of The Championships at Wimbledon are quite simply ‘ace’.

Established back in 1877, Wimbledon is understandably steeped in history but it is by no means behind the times when it comes to using technology to better the experience for players and spectators alike. The days of dodgy line calls and shouts of “You cannot be serious” are long gone thanks to electronic line judging system Hawk-Eye, which has been in use for a decade on the courts.

Elsewhere, last year Wimbledon used IBM’s Artificial Intelligence agent, Watson, to astutely gauge crowd sentiment based on their facial expressions and reactions to players in order to predict which players the spectators were backing.

This year, the team at The Championships are going several steps further in leveraging the potential of AI to enhance spectator experience. Firstly, for those lucky enough to bag a coveted ballot ticket, an AI assistant will be on hand to answer any questions you have on the day when roaming around the venue. Nicknamed ‘Ask Fred’ after the infamous Fred Perry who graced the courts in the 1930s, Wimbledon’s very own chatbot will be able to answer all visitor queries, like where is the nearest strawberries and cream vendor or where is Centre Court located. The beauty of ‘Ask Fred’ is that, AI is by its very nature constantly learning and developing. As such, this year’s questions will be logged so that next year’s assistant can be best prepared to respond to spectator questions.

Artificial Intelligence will also be able to help spectators select the most gripping matches to watch across the two weeks. By comparing a player’s ratio of forced and unforced errors, Watson can predict both how close a match between two players is likely to be and more importantly and perhaps impressively, who the overall winner will be. In addition, the tech will intelligently predict which strategies each competitor might utilise on the courts.

With hundreds of hours of footage for us all to enjoy, AI will create informed highlight reels to select the best bits of each day across the 2 weeks. The whittled down footage will be selected based on numerous criteria like the crowd’s reaction to the action on court, the overall match outcome, the player’s reactions and the sentiment expressed by fans on social media. The process of boiling the days’ worth of footage down and sharing with audiences is instantaneous, providing fans everywhere with an up to the minute package of the day’s highlights.

Given the heritage and long-standing traditions – as the only tennis championships where players must wear the traditional tennis whites – it’s great to see Wimbledon embrace change and adopt the latest technology, in order to enhance viewing experience – both those lucky enough to attend in person and those watching at home.

So as the first week of the tournament gets underway, it’s time to grab some Pimms and summer snacks and settle down to enjoy the tennis. I for one will watch first-hand whether the promise of AI will successfully predict this year’s winner!

Lucy Hewson, Senior Account Executive, Technology