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19 December, 2006 - 11:26 By Staff Reporter

BT adds football to its Arsenal

Researchers at BT’s labs in Ipswich are examining the best way of commercialising new technology that automatically generates the highlights of a football match.Working at BT’s research HQ at Adastral Park in Suffolk, computer scientists David Chatting, Matt Brotherton and Li-Qun Xu, are involved in a wider effort within the telco giant to effectively mine the pertinent from the barrage of information that assails the average consumer on a day to day basis.

BT aims to augment its recent move into the world of content provision, spearheaded by its new BT Vision arm.

The service pipes TV into the home through the company’s broadband network. The software – developed over four years – views a football match and produces a graph assessing each passage of play, saving only what it considers to be the most interesting moments.

According to Chatting, the pundit technology makes the decision based on factors such as the volume and excitement levels of the crowd and the commentator, changes in camera views and the amount of motion and speed of play at any time.

The technology is still going through the validation process, in this case comparing the computer’s highlights with what the football fan judges to be the high points as depicted by their physiological responses to the action.

A recent encounter between Ipswich Town FC and Colchester United FC allowed BT’s Future Content Group to hook up the respective fans to a battery of monitoring equipment.

The technology was also trialled in England’s match against Sweden in the summer’s World Cup, when it was found that the computer’s highlights very closely matched those chosen by the BBC.

”I have been seeking to extend this by looking at how well the computer does in comparison to what real fans pick as highlights and how their physiology reflects their excitement,” Chatting said.

“I’ve been working with Matt in the new customer environment lab at Adastral Park, which allows us to study people interacting with technology in a home-like environment.

“This enables the technology to detect vital action such as goals, near misses, penalties, corners, players going down injured, and red and yellow cards.

“The computer has no idea about footballs, goal posts, lines etc. It picks out all these events by listening to the crowd and seeing how often the camera angle is changed. And it has absolutely no understanding of the offside rule.

“If you’ve ever been in another room while a match is on you’ll get an idea how it works. You hear the volume rise with the crowd and you know something interesting has happened.”

Chatting and his colleagues are now examining the optimum route for getting the technology to market and are not, at this stage, ruling out the possibility of forming a spin-out company.

The original intention was to market the technology to sports broadcasters as a labour and money saving alternative to manual intervention. Having examined the economics of the industry, however, the team believes that it would be better suited to trawling through archive footage.

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