The fan experience, even when it occurs at home in front of the TV, is also primed to change. "Players are experiencing the plays and viewers are viewing them," Jafari said, "but how could we provide a more real-world experience for the fans?"
A simple example, he suggested, could involve the emerging "second screen" trend, in which spectators watch the main action in person or on a TV while also browsing supplementary information on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Raw data collected from sensors could be routed through Hadoop or some other system designed to make the content useful, and then delivered almost instantly, and perhaps in a personalized form, to the viewer.
Extending this theme, Jafari suggested more immersive experiences could be in the cards as well. If a catcher's glove records data related to the impact of a ball, for example, then specialized gloves for fans could, by selectively applying and reducing pressure on the user's hand, recreate that impact in living rooms around the world. Such a product might be gimmicky for some but the concept demonstrates how viewers could engage tactilely and bodily with their favorite sports, elevated from passive spectators to pseudo participants.
To describe the diversity of vicarious experiences fans could one day enjoy, Jafari alluded to the changes the iPhone brought to the smartphone market. "Apple created this platform and made it open," he said. "That let developers create their own apps, and to unleash capabilities." He said the same technique could be applied to sports, noting that "if the infrastructure is in place, millions of smart individuals out there can think about how to use it. Let's build these sensors and build a platform, and then let developers create that experience for the users."
Fans might be interested in the moment of impact between bat and ball, he said, "or perhaps if it's a rainy day and the player cannot run as fast, they could augment that reality and provide it to the user."
Still, before creative developers can make their marks, several challenges must be addressed. Jafari noted that sensors must be instrumented such that players aren't aware of the tech they're wearing and using. Maintenance is another issue. Thousands of sensors could be inserted in a bat, or throughout the field, but once the tech is installed, how will it be serviced? If typical batteries are involved, Jafari said such massive sensor deployments are "hard to imagine."
One possible solution is to eschew batteries in favor of energy generated by the athlete's body. Current sensors only capture a fraction of the power needed to make such an approach viable but Jafari stated that the current pace of technology should provide more effective options in the near future. Baseball might not be quite ready yet, but it's likely only a matter of time until today's viewing and officiating rituals become, like the infamous Houston Astros uniforms from the 70s, a mere memory on the path to something better.
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