Technology takes center stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar 

Technology takes center stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar 

By Jorge Hurtado

Global sporting events have always been opportunities for technological innovation. The 2022 World Cup is no exception, with more than its fair share of innovation and technology. The 2018 World Cup in Russia showcased the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in addition to several technologies used to track and measure the performance of players and referees and enrich the experience and engagement of fans.

As the host, Qatar has ensured that the event runs as smoothly as possible, providing new services and features by leveraging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, augmented reality, and blockchain. Presented are some of the newest innovations that debuted during this year’s games.

Al Rihla (The Journey), the Adidas official match ball for Qatar 2022:

The match ball has an internal motion sensor capable of reporting the precise location data at the moment the ball is kicked. The sensor can produce information about its position at a speed of 500 times per second. The info is sent back to a data center, which FIFA officials use to track statistics and monitor gameplay. The sensor is placed at the center of the ball. The Al Rihla has been designed to ‘float longer and spin more’ without affecting the player’s performance. AI will be in charge of processing data collected by the Al Rihla in real-time.

A semi-automated offside technology provides more accurate and faster decisions:

The semi-automated offside technology, or SAOT, is a new support tool for the VAR and on-field referees. The technology uses 12 tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium. Cameras track the ball and plot up to 29 data points of each individual player at a speed of 50 times per second. These data points help to calculate the ball and the player’s exact position on the field. The 29 data points monitor players’ bodies relevant for marking the offside.

The AI provides a quick data analysis and thus automated offside alerts to the VAR. The VAR officials validate the AI decision by manually checking the kick point selected by the AI to create the automatic offside line, which is based on the calculated positions of the players’ bodies. The generated 3D animation details the position of the players’ body parts found the offside the moment the ball was played and is then broadcasted to the audience. The new technology tool helps to process information within a few seconds, so offside decisions are claimed to be faster and more accurate.

Machine learning that produces player’s individual performance data:

Through the FIFA Player App, players can access their performance data collected through tracking system devices installed in multiple cameras located around the field. Metrics include distance covered at different speeds, number of actions performed above 25 km/h, and maximum game speed, all displayed on positional heat maps.

Data gathered also makes use of machine learning algorithms and models that operate live to integrate event and tracking data. The enhanced football intelligence metrics provide the live game analysis (e.g., moment of play, line-breaking events, receiving locations, and pressure applied to the player in possession of the ball).

The match footage offering the player’s performance in detailed information is presented to the assigned coaching staff (i.e., an analyst and manager). In addition, the information allows the teams to communicate via text and voice and send and receive still images and tactical drawings.

Within a second, referees can validate or invalidate a goal:

The goal-line technology helps to instantly determine when the match ball has crossed the goal line. The information is gathered using 14 dedicated high-speed cameras placed under the roof of the stadiums. The information helps to create a 3D animation to visualize the final decision and broadcast it anywhere intended. The information is transmitted to the referee’s watch.

Air-conditioned outdoor stadiums:

Qatar, a country so hot that summer temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius), provided eight fully operative air-conditioned outdoor stadiums to host the 64 matches for the 2022 World Cup. 

The cooling system was developed by the College of Engineering at Qatar University, inspired by old-style car radiators. The final product was developed with the help of AI with 3D printing to design the cooling system and calibrate angles and speed of air movement. Within the stadiums, cooled air wafts are produced by water refrigerated by massive absorption chillers, powered by the energy produced from water heated by solar panels, which are stored in temperature-controlled tanks.

The cooled air is released using grilles placed in the stands and nozzles facing the game field, which generates a targeted cooling system where people are. Cooled air is then drawn back, re-cooled, filtered, and pushed out using air circulation. This incredibly clever system creates automatic airflow changes using solar energy and sensors that interact with a command center. Temperatures can fluctuate within 64.4 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 23.8 Celsius), aimed to protect the health of players and fans. 

The University claims that its ‘spot-cooling’ technology is 40% more sustainable than any other existing techniques, where the sports venues only need to be cooled two hours before the event, which drastically reduces energy consumption. 

Facial recognition technology and drone surveillance at stadiums:

The Aspire Command and Control Center (ACCC) uses 22,000 security cameras to monitor the eight stadiums and Qatar’s streets to offer better security to spectators. The ACCC, for instance, has the latest facial recognition technology able to zoom in on each of the 80,000 spectators present at the Lusail Stadium. In addition, with a single click, the ACCC can shift views from one stadium to another stadium. 

With the help of AI, the ACCC can forecast crowd patterns using the exact number of people expected at each sports venue. Thus, the ACCC can predict crowd surges and/or the formation of potential stampedes using data such as time of arrival, points of entry, and/or movement of people at any given time.

Drone surveillance, recently developed by Qatar University, can produce information about the number of people using city streets. This data is sent to the ACCC and allows for safety and transportation systems monitoring.

The use of Interceptor Drones aimed to deter potential attacks from other unmanned aircraft systems at the stadiums. The interceptors are equipped with the ‘SkyDome System,’ able to detect and stop the functionality of rogue drones. In addition, the system can classify threats and mitigate them autonomously with its interceptor drone, DroneHunter.

Enabling visually-impaired fans to enjoy the game experience:

Thanks to the technology employed during the 2022 world cup, even the visually impaired are accounted for . Visually impaired fans have the opportunity as never before to enjoy the World Cup games experience thanks to two portable assistive technology platforms. The Bonocle works as a smartphone/tablet controller and converts the content of the screen into Braille in real-time. The Feelix Palm communicates electrical impulses to broadcast a braille-like message directly on the individual’s palm. The Feelix Palm does not restrict people’s hearing or physical movements.

The advantage of both technologies is that visually-impaired fans can get real-time and multiple types of information about the surrounding environment.

Visa deploys face biometrics as proof of payment:

To complete this story, fans have the opportunity to enable facial recognition as a form of payment. This innovative approach, used for the very first time in a sports event, is VISA’s Pay with your face. Customers are required to enroll so once face biometrics are recorded, they are only required to show their faces as a form of contactless payment without the need for cards or smartphones.  The facial recognition technology is brought by the Qatar National Bank and POP ID, supported by ‘Visa via tokenization.’ Visa has installed 5,300 contactless payment terminals in Qatar. 

Technology & infrastructure score the winning goal:

Finally, this 2022 FIFA World Cup development in Qatar relies heavily on stadium networking made possible by using a digital twin solution that defines the technology ecosystem in the country. This technology processes data generated by almost 40,000 IoT devices in real time, making the event safe and expected to function well at every stadium.

All technologies featured in this 2022 FIFA World Cup required a massive IT infrastructure led by Qatar’s state-backed Intaleq (technology ecosystem) and partnered with Microsoft (Azure cloud and business intelligence) and Johnson Controls (facility management).

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