July 5, 2004 State-of-the-art computer models could soon help tennis players and other sportsmen and women improve their tactics and gain a competitive edge over opponents.
In a world-leading initiative, new models are being developed that can assess the effectiveness of sporting tactics more accurately than conventional video techniques. Computer scientists at Kingston University are carrying out the research, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Players and coaches spend a lot of time analysing the advantages and drawbacks of alternative positions, formations and player movements. This project aims to enable particular tactics or styles of play (e.g. those of Roger Federer or Serena Williams) to be programmed into computerised players. A computerised player with an "attacking profile", for example, might run to the net more often than normal. The system would then allow the user to explore the best tactics to employ against them.
As well as offering the potential for much more sophisticated analysis of players than can be achieved observing video footage alone, computer models are also much quicker to use. They avoid the need to edit and hunt through huge volumes of tape, and include search software that can rapidly scan for examples of specific tactics or patterns of play.
In the past, developing this kind of computer model has been difficult because sporting tactics involve a lot of co-ordination between players. The project will tackle this by harnessing models specially designed to handle situations where the movements of two or more co-ordinated objects need to be tracked at the same time.
The research will start by focusing on tennis singles and doubles and then look at more complex sports such as football and basketball.
Dr Ahmed Shihab of the School of Computing & Information Systems is leading the project. Dr Shihab says: "As well as helping specialised sports training, the technology we are developing could have benefits in fields such as realistic computer gaming, virtual reality and surveillance, which also involve co-ordinated human activity."
The 3-year research initiative, "Modelling the Co-ordinated Activities of Players in High Dimensional, High Volume Sports Data Sets," will receive EPSRC funding of nearly £83,000.
Using conventional video footage as feedstock, the project will computerise this information and use it as the basis for the new computer models. This process will involve feeding video recordings into the computer software system being developed as part of the initiative. The system's purpose-built visual tracking software will then identify the players, record their positions and track them throughout play, and their positions will be fed into predictive models trained to recognise known tactics and strategies. The models will aim to recognise the difference between attack and defence and the dominance of one team over another, and will allow the user to explore the effect of different tactics and of different strategies to counter them.
Initially, the project may seek to use the system it develops in a commercial role to automatically generate highlights from tennis footage. LampLighters, a commercial partner with a broadcasting industry background, aims to evaluate this application.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/
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