Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hawkeye and Virtual Eye

Today I received a comment from Ian Taylor, who signed off as the CEO of Virtual Eye on an old post about Hawkeye. Virtual Eye is developed by Animation Research Ltd., a Dunedin based software technology firm which develops animations as broadcasting aids for various sports broadcasters. I quote Ian's comment in full below. It should be noted that Virtual Eye is a competitor to Hawkeye, which is produced by UK based Hawkeye Innovations Ltd.. Based on what little I know, it is interesting that the two firms seem to approach technology in sport quite differently. Based on Ian Taylor's comment, Virtual Eye is focused on assisting broadcasters, while Hawkeye has been less shy about being a decision making tool. I have not had any email communication with Mr. Taylor. In the case of Mr. Hawkins of Hawkeye Innovations, I was referred to him by the ICC's communications manager, and I reported the relevant portions of my email communication with him here.

Discussions about technology have yielded much interesting debate on this blog, and I am increasingly of the view that if technology is to be used effectively, fairly and thoughtfully in Cricket, then the management of the various conflicts of interests - between umpires and players, between cricket administrators, the ICC and broadcasters, between entertainment and judgment, is at least as important, if not more so, than the quality of the technical tools (hawkeye, virtual eye, snickometer, hotspot etc) employment in any such technology.

Ian Taylor's comment follows.

The debate on technology in sport is an interesting one. At Virtual Eye our approach has always been that technology should be used to help viewers of a sport understand how skilled the proponents are and that it should only attempt to deliver things that television cameras can't. We have done that for many years in a range of sports - In yachting we are used to show exactly where boats are in relationship to each other, give multiple views of the action (very difficult using real cameras), show what effect changing wind patterns are having and convey different levels of data we can access directly from the boats and sailors that helps inform viewers of the skills on display.

In golf we use graphics to show not only where golfers have hit their balls but how small the target was they had to aim at - what distances they need to clear different obstacles, the effect the wind may have on their shot, what are the risk and rewards of a particular shot, how difficult a putt might be due to slopes on the green - where is the optimum place to put a ball for todays conditions, etc etc. Always hoping to add to viewer understanding of the sport.

In F1 we are able to show optimal lines through particular corners, give viewers an idea of the G forces acting on the drivers at given parts of the track - how skilled these athletes have to be to make the split second decisions they make under enormous duress.

We got involved in cricket for the exact same reason. To help explain the game of chess that is being played between the bowler, his captain and the batsman. Initially we rejected the idea that we could use technology to track balls and then predict "exactly" where they would have gone after they had hit something. We moved into this area because of the uptake of the Hawk Eye technology but we have always maintained that whilst we are very comfortable the with actual tracking of the ball, after all we are recording it using multiple cameras each recording at over 160 frames per second, the question of predicting where it would have gone after making impact is definitely one we choose not to be as bullish about as our counterparts at Hawk Eye. We have in fact taken the unusual step of stating at times that we did not get enough information to make an informed prediction. We see our function as providing Umpires with tools they can use to assist them when they need it - and I personally share the view that in the end the Umpire should be the arbiter of what happens on the ground and that they and the players need to be confident about the processes we apply.

Technology can have a place to play but we believe we need to be open about the strengths and weaknesses of the various technologies being used and look at how we can combine the best of those to create tools that give everyone confidence in the information we are presenting. Unlike Paul (Hawkins) I would never claim that our predictions are always correct - how could I - just like an umpire our computer is also taking a best guess at what might have happened and, like the umpire, that guess is totally reliant on what the computer has observed. Furthermore, our computer is not standing behind the stumps feeling the wind, observing the variations in the pitch as the day proceeds and all of those other countless variables that skilled umpires have learned over many many years of standing in matches.. If the technology is to be used then it is our job to do all we can to constantly improve it and we can only do that by recognising that there are limitations and we need to find ways to deal with those. That won't be achieved by blindly arguing that we are never wrong and that people who question us are our academic inferiors. It will only be achieved by constantly working at improving the technology and never losing sight of the fact that we should be there to provide reliable data to the person who actually makes the calls - the Umpire.

Ian Taylor
CEO Virtual Eye.


  1. Quite interesting revelation !!!

    +1 from me for being Candid. Technology should complement.

  2. such a nice informative post