Technology and sport already have a rather mixed relationship. Logging onto Twitter during a soccer game (or soccer as it’s properly called*) and in addition to people tweeting ambiguous statements like “YES” and “oh no mate” to around 20,000 inexplicable retweets, you’ll probably see a lot of complaints about the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and sometimes goal-line technology not doing its job.
Fans of Scottish football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC experienced a hilarious new tech glitch during a game last weekend, but in all honesty you’d be hard pressed to say it didn’t improve the game. viewing experience dramatically.
The club announced a few weeks ago that it was switching from using human cameramen to AI-controlled cameras. The proudly advertised club at the time, the new “Pixellot system uses cameras with built-in AI ball-tracking technology” and would be used to capture HD footage of all home games at Caledonian Stadium, which would be broadcast live to the homes of season ticket holders.
Cut to last Saturday, when the robot cameras were faced with a new challenge that hadn’t been anticipated: a linesman with a bald head.
The AI camera appeared to confuse the man’s bald head with the ball for much of the game, repeatedly turning around to follow the linesman instead of the actual game. many viewers complained they missed their team scoring a goal because the camera ‘kept thinking Lino’s bald head was the ball’, and some even suggested the club should provide the linesman with a toupe or hat .
With no fans allowed in the stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions, fans of Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC and their opponents Ayr United could only watch via the cameras, and were therefore treated to a view mainly of the linesman’s head instead of any exciting moments from the match that unfolded off-camera, although some fans saw that as a bonus given the usual quality of performances.
As you can see from the highlight reel above, the AI-controlled camera is constantly tracking the linesman’s head, especially in trouble when the ball falls towards the ground near him. You can practically hear his thought process: “ball ball ball bald head, there’s a bald head, zoom in on the bald head.”
The object recognition technology could clearly use a little tweaking, otherwise the team might actually have to implement the policy of bald referees being forced to wear a sombrero to differentiate themselves from the ball.
*It may surprise you to know that IFLScience is based in the UK, not the US.