From Maree’s description, Saru’s technological ecosystem can be delineated into two distinct processes: data collection and data-driven decision making.
The main tool used for data collection is a GPS tracker, called a GPS pod, which each player has inserted into a sleeve in the back of their rugby jersey. The sleeve is designed so that the pod sits tightly inside it to minimise movement. “The one thing you don’t want with GPS is unwanted movement because it is going to affect the readings,” Maree said. The pod is cleverly positioned between the shoulder blades to minimise the chances of collision during rucks, mauls and scrums.
The Springboks use tracking pods made by STATSports, an Irish company that supplies analysis software along with the tracking hardware. “We developed the system a few years ago with our partner, Mobii System – a local company. Our latency, at 0.25s from live, makes us the quickest system in the world at this stage,” Maree said. The very same data is used for post-game video analysis using Hudl Sportscode. “From the GPS pod together with STATSports, there are probably over 200 or even 300 metrics that you can look at".
This is really no surprise, as most average athletes carry smartwatches and other sports tracking devices already for measuring their own performance (and we've long seen racing cars carrying such analytical information). It is not so much the measurement device, but more the power of the available analytics that separates amateur from professional levels. AI also is said to not yet play any role, but I would imagine they are playing with that to see how it compares with human deduction and decision-making, after all AI is all about learning from data, and AI may help give an additional edge in terms of the speed of decision-making in future.
The other thing I'm really wondering about is security. The moment something starts using technology with any form of connectivity, it is potentially at risk to hacking. Whether that is just intelligence gathering by the opposition, gathering of information by the opposition, or a denial-of-service attack, all these risks can potentially be harmful, especially when you come to depend more and more on the technology. So I guess Chief Risk Officer, CIO< etc all take on new meanings for even sports teams.
With today's digital era, and streaming of entertainment media, it would be interesting to see some of the basic data being broadcast during games like max speed reached by a player, distance travelled, etc that could make it more interesting.
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