September 8, 2008

What *Is* Reality? [7:18 am]

An instant reply system that, in fact, is only something like one — technological alienation/mediation enters yet another domain: Hawk-Eye Replay System a Hit at the U.S. Open

Overseeing it all is Paul Hawkins, the thin, sandy-haired, 30-something Englishman who had the crazy idea a few years ago to do for tennis what no other professional sport seems to have managed: create an instant-replay system that works.

“I have a technology background,” said Hawkins, who holds a doctorate in artificial intelligence. “I love sports. So I kind of had an opportunity to combine my two passions.”

The result was Hawk-Eye, probably the most successful instant-replay system in sports. Since its introduction at the United States Open three years ago, Hawk-Eye has won over fans, players and even officials.

[...] The big breakthrough, Hawkins said, was not relying on optical devices to determine where a given shot lands — a surprisingly difficult spot to measure accurately. Hawk-Eye uses a system of 10 cameras to track the speed and trajectory of a ball in flight, but that is only part of the magic. The rest is done exclusively through computer modeling.

Because no tennis court is exactly flat and no line precisely straight, before the tournament. Hawkins’s team takes thousands of precise measurements of the dimensions and contours of each court, which are then converted into a three-dimensional computer model. Hawk-Eye’s virtual world takes into account other real-world factors that can affect accuracy, like the amount a ball compresses when it hits the court and even the temperature of the court.

“During warm days, the court actually changes size as it heats up or cools down,” Hawkins said.

When the ball flight data is fed into the computer model, the result is a system that is so precise it’s difficult to measure.

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