Technology and sports have a fairly mixed relationship already. Log on to Twitter during a soccer match (or football as it’s properly known*) and as well as people tweeting ambiguous statements like “YESSS” and “oh no mate” to about 20,000 inexplicable retweets, you’ll likely see a lot of complaints about the video assistant referee (VAR) and occasionally goal-line technology not doing its job.
Fans of Scottish football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC experienced a new hilarious technological glitch during a match last weekend, but in all honesty, you’d be hard-pressed to say it didn’t improve the viewing experience dramatically.
The club announced a few weeks ago it was moving from using human camera operators to cameras controlled by AI. The club proudly announced at the time the new “Pixellot system uses cameras with in-built, AI, ball-tracking technology” and would be used to capture HD footage of all home matches at Caledonian Stadium, which would be broadcast directly to season-ticket holders’ homes.Advertisment
Cut to last Saturday, when the robot cameras were given a new challenge that hadn’t been foreseen: A linesman with a bald head.
The AI camera appeared to mistake the man’s bald head for the ball for a lot of the match, repeatedly swinging back to follow the linesman instead of the actual game. Many viewers complained they missed their team scoring a goal because the camera “kept thinking the Lino bald head was the ball,” and some even suggested the club would have to provide the linesman with a toupe or hat.
With no fans allowed in the stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions, the fans of Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC and their opponents Ayr United could only watch via the cameras, and so were treated to mostly a view of the linesman’s head instead of any exciting moments of the match that were occurring off-camera, though some fans saw this as a bonus given the usual quality of performance.
As you can see from the highlight reel above, the AI-operated camera continuously follows the linesman’s head, particularly struggling as the ball falls down towards the ground near him. You can practically hear its thought process: “ball ball ball bald head, there’s a bald head, zoom in on the bald head.”
The object recognition technology could clearly do with a bit of a tweak, or else the team might actually have to implement the policy of bald referees being forced to wear a sombrero to differentiate themselves from the ball.