The winning formula: how data analytics is keeping football teams one step ahead

When Simon Wilson first arrived at Southampton football club he was a consultant for a technology startup called Prozone. Prozone had developed a proprietary player-tracking software which, fed by eight cameras around the pitch, would output a two-dimensional bird’s-eye animation of a football match. The machine could track each player’s movement every 0.1 seconds, registering an average of 3,000 touches of the ball per game, and provide an answer to a range of statistical questions. Southampton adopted Prozone and later hired Wilson to work as a performance analyst for the first-team manager.

“Prozone wasn’t part of the culture of the game and most managers weren’t used to it,” Wilson says. “I was naïve but I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want this kind of information.” Once, just before an August 2005 football league Championship game between Luton Town and Southampton, Wilson gave a pre-match briefing to the team and the manager, at the time, Harry Redknapp. “Harry was more intuitive than analytical,” says Wilson. “He was nervous about overloading the players with information.”

Southampton lost 3-2. On the team bus, Redknapp turned to Wilson and said, “I’ll tell you what, next week, why don’t we get your computer to play against their computer and see who wins?”

Some managers, however, did get it – and one in particular was Clive Woodward. He had been the coach of England’s World Cup-winning rugby team in 2003, and in 2005 had been offered a one-year contract to serve as Southampton’s director of football. He had been the first coach to adapt Prozone to rugby, installing it at Twickenham four years before the World Cup, which allowed him to collect data on how England and its opponents played.

“When I first saw it I was fascinated because I’d never seen a game where you’re looking down and just see dots and data and movement,” Woodward says. “It removed a lot of the preconceived notions we had about how other teams played. It made a big difference when we started to see them as data, as opposed to teams we had never beaten before.” Once, after his players insisted that there was no space on the field to run into, Woodward took a printout of a Prozone freeze-frame taken 24 seconds into a match against France. It showed both teams around the ball in a small area on the pitch and acres of unoccupied space everywhere else. He stuck it on board with the message: “The space is the green stuff”. “Clive would challenge me at every level,” says Wilson about Woodward’s time at Southampton. “He would ask questions about every aspect of the game: why do we spend so much time working out how to score goals and not how to stop them? I would try to explain to him what they’re doing and he’d just keep asking why.”

Woodward and Wilson tried things such as filming players striking the ball, to study technique from a biomechanical perspective. Those initiatives, however, never had much impact. Redknapp left before the end of the year and Woodward departed at the end of his contract. Wilson had left the club shortly before Woodward, convinced that there was a better way of running a club. “Woodward believed that evidence, be it video or statistics or any kind of data, was fundamental to how you prepare a team,” Wilson says.

Woodward remains his biggest influence. “He taught me that we didn’t have to do things just because they had always been done in a certain way.”

Today, 19 of the 20 Premier League teams use Prozone. Each has its own team of performance analysts and data scientists looking for the indicators that quantify player performance, the events that determine matches and trends that characterise seasons.

They are scientists dissecting the world’s most popular game, looking at data from Prozone and other sources to understand what dictates the difference between winning and losing. In the environment of the multimillion-pound Premier League, clubs don’t just want a competitive advantage, they need it.


VR TV shows

Want to watch your favorite shows in VR? One startup aims to make this happen

When HBO released Game of Thrones season six last April, its Facebook page posted a 360-degree video of the opening scene. But making a single 360-degree teaser isn’t the same as making weekly episodes available in virtual reality format.

It’s possible, though. “That’s what the major networks are doing these days,” said Matthew Collado, co-founder and chief content officer at Littlstar.

So, what are the barriers?

There are too many platforms, unlike the app ecosystem which resolves around iOS and Android. An app developer writes one Android app which is available to users of most Android smartphones. As for VR, the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR all have their own platforms and requirements. This variety of platforms — both in the form of VR hardware and the software behind it — makes content difficult to produce and consume.

This creates a gap in the market that NYC startup Littlstar hopes to fill – by acting like a middleman. Littlstar allows brands to upload 360-degree photos or videos in web, mobile and VR formats, after which it optimizes the content to make it available on VR platforms like Samsung GearVR, Oculus Rift, and Google Cardboard.

The company is also now in the final approval process of signing a partnership with HTC Vive and is launching a presence in Sony PlayStation Store next month, according to Matthew.

Littlstar now has thousands of videos in VR, mobile, and web formats, including content from major networks. The startup bases itself in New York City because of the sheer number of marketing and advertising agencies, as well as TV networks like ABC and HBO, located there.

“I travel in between Los Angeles and New York. New York is more of a business resource hub whereas LA is more for actual production,” Matthew added.


eBay is betting shoppers will embrace virtual reality as much as gamers

Virtual reality could be the next big thing after the mobile shopping boom, and the brands want in.

Not just for gaming, the technology could also support retail and browsing experiences, and eBay is one of the first companies to take the leap.

Partnering with Australian retailer Myer, eBay launched what it called the world’s first virtual reality department store Wednesday. Shoppers can now look through thousands of Myer products without leaving home.

Once the iOS or Android eBay Virtual Reality Department Store app is downloaded, it works with headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR. eBay and Myer are also offering 20,000 free “shopticals” — basically just Google Cardboard headsets — to shoppers.

During a quick trial, the experience worked smoothly with a basic, mind map-style interface.

When you enter the virtual store, several categories of retail items are shown: women’s clothing, electronics and others. Users select areas of interest, and the experience is built around the choices. As you move through, selecting or rejecting items, the store’s algorithm should further adapt to what it thinks users might like.

If you want to take a closer look at a watch or bra, 100 of the top products are viewable in 3D, with the remaining 12,500 in 2D.

Instead of having hand controllers, users select items using only sight. The company has created “eBay Sight Search,” which allows items to be chosen by holding your gaze on them for a number of seconds.

Items can be added to the basket in the same fashion, but to check out, users have to take off the headset and return to the eBay app to put through the payment.


Discover an Immersive Horror Adventure in Edge of Nowhere – Available Now on Rift

Augmented reality startup Blippar has so far been known for using augmented reality and computer vision technology to bring information from the real world through your smartphone camera to your screen.

Edge of Nowhere, the intense, third-person action-adventure title from Insomniac Games and Oculus Studios, is now live on the Oculus Store for Rift! Traverse the mountains of Antarctica as Victor Howard in search of a mysteriously vanished expedition. Edge of Nowhere blends adventure gameplay with elements of Lovecraftian horror where nothing is what it seems.

Check out the video:



Blippar’s app can tell you things about every object around you

Augmented reality startup Blippar has so far been known for using augmented reality and computer vision technology to bring information from the real world through your smartphone camera to your screen.

For example, if you aimed your camera to a movie poster adorned with Blippar’s “B” logo, it would serve up information about that movie on your phone.

But, as announced a few months ago, the company has a greater goal in mind: it wants its app to btell apart any object you point your camera to, and offer you information on it. The company presents it as a “Wikipedia for the physical world,” but it’s closer to a visual Google.

Today the UK-based startup announced the technology behind this concept, called Blipparsphere, is live. It’s based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, which help it identify everyday objects. The app then brings up relevant subjects in the form of circles with each one containing information in text form and linking to further sources.

Blippar’s app is available for iOS and Android. While it’s still early days, it’s capable of recognizing common objects without much trouble. Point the camera at something, and the app starts cycling through keywords that it thinks are relevant to it before settling on what it is.

It managed to identify my computer monitor, my coffee mug, and my coffeemaker and served up various bits of info on them. For my monitor, for example, it showed information on aspect ratios, the HDMI format, etc. It had a bit more difficulty recognizing my toaster, thinking it was a washing machine, but like I said, early days.


VR Brush

Google Tilt Brush: Impossible now a reality?

Artists, put down your brushes. It’s time to step into the world of virtual reality.

Google has unveiled Tilt Brush, its new app set to revolutionize the definition of painting and push the boundaries of what it can represent.
With the swipe of a digital brush users wearing a connected HTC Vive headset can paint life-sized, three dimensional strokes of just about anything — even drawing with impossible materials such as fire, snow and stars.


Watch video!

Virtual reality is about to go mainstream, but a lack of content threatens to hold it back

Technology is surrounding us; its surface is becoming more complex, pliable and familiar to the eye. Virtual reality is no longer creeping into the mainstream: It’s leaping.

Just last month, secretive VR startup Magic Leap received more than $793 million in new funding through Google, Qualcomm and others, quickening its progress toward creating seamless experiences in which digital and physical worlds collide.

When MIT Technology Review editor Rachel Metz visited Magic Leap’s headquarters, she discovered a world where crisp virtual characters were already roaming the halls, waiting for a device to be perfected that will bring them into the public eye.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft revealed its plans to release a sleek-looking augmented reality headset this year, too. HoloLens will allow users to interact with holographic surroundings and characters, and Microsoft partners Volvo, NASA and Trimble are already testing it in the business world.

Though the industry is giddy with the potential of VR, the consumer is still a step away from being able to enjoy a virtual experience while riding the bus.


Gallery one: Collection Wall

The Collection Wall, a 40-foot interactive, multitouch, MicroTile wall, displays in real time all works of art from the permanent collection currently on view in the galleries—between 4,200 and 4,500 artworks at any given time. In addition, the Collection Wall displays thematic groupings that may include highlighted artworks currently on loan as well as select light-sensitive artworks that are in storage.

The Collection Wall facilitates discovery and dialogue with other visitors and can serve as an orientation experience, allowing visitors to download existing tours or create their own tours to take out into the galleries on iPads and iPhones. The largest such screen in the United States, the Collection Wall enables visitors to connect with objects in the collection in a playful and original way, making their visit a more powerful personal experience. Its display transitions every 40 seconds to keep things interesting—grouping artworks by theme and type, such as time period or materials and techniques, as well as by 32 curated views of the collection.

How it works

Standing 5 feet by 40 feet, the wall is composed of 150 Christie MicroTiles and displays more than 23 million pixels, which is the equivalent of more than twenty-three 720p HDTVs. The Christie iKit multitouch system allows multiple users to interact with the wall, simultaneously opening as many as 20 separate interfaces across the Collection Wall to explore the collection. Software was written using open Frameworks and runs on two Windows 7 workstations supported by four Linux servers processing the video across the wall, and an RFID server managing the iPad/iPhone station connectivity.

High-resolution digital cameras ranging from 48 to 192 megapixels were used to photograph the CMA’s collection. These are publication-quality photographs as large as 50 by 40 inches, which will enlarge on a standard iPad, iPhone, or computer monitor to 220 by 160 inches for examining detail.

Every 10 minutes, an application content management system updates the wall with high-resolution images of artwork, metadata, and the frequency with which each artwork has been “favorited” on the wall and from within the ArtLens iPad/iPhone app. Users can save favorites to their iPad/iPhone from the wall by placing their device on one of eight docking stations, which identify an iPad/iPhone by detecting an RFID chip on the back of its case. The visitor’s favoriting and sharing activity creates metrics that enable museum staff to understand what artworks visitors are engaging with, creating a feedback loop with the museum. Visitors can also queue curated themes to display on the Collection Wall, playing them like a jukebox that changes every 40 seconds. These themes can be changed dynamically to connect with temporary exhibitions or create new ideas for the permanent collection.

In order to ensure that the content of the Collection Wall and the app is dynamic and maintainable, all information is pulled directly from our digital asset management systems. Therefore, any new accession or an object that has gone off view is immediately incorporated into the wall and iPad/iPhone app.


Face Swap Technology is Getting Creepy

Face swap camera apps are all the rage these days, and Facebook even acquired one this month to get into the game. But the technology is getting more and more creepy: you can now hijack someone else’s face in real-time video.

A team of researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and Stanford University are working on a project called Face2Face, which is described as “real-time face capture and reenactment of RGB videos.”

Basically, they’re working on technology that lets you take over the face of anyone in a video clip. By sitting in front of an ordinary webcam, you can, in real-time, manipulate the face of someone in a target video. The result is convincing and photo-realistic.

The face swap is done by tracking the facial expressions of both the subject and the target, doing a super fast “deformation transfer” between the two, warping the mouth to produce an accurate fit, and rerendering the synthesized face and blending it with real-world illumination.

To test the system, the researchers invited subjects to puppeteer the faces of famous people (e.g. George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger) in video clips found on YouTube. You can see the results (and an explanation of the technology) in this 6.5-minute video:


In Russia, 30 Squats Will Get You a Train Ticket

IF YOU COULD do a little bit of exercise in exchange for a train ticket, would you? Passengers at the Vystavochnaya station, west of Moscow, are doing just that as part of a promo for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The idea is to get people active and amped for the games in February, and for 30 squats, passengers get a free ride on the subway, which costs around a buck.

Olympic Change, which is responsible for the ticketing scheme, is collecting similar ideas, crowdsourcing different ways to get Russians involved in the run-up to the Olympics. So far, people have submitted everything from bike-powered mobile phone chargers to musical stairs, with one winner being announced next month and having their idea brought to life.