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How innovation happens part 2: The sporting outlier

September 21, 2015

Mehul Kapadia   

Blog contributor

In my previous post, I looked at how outlier environments have contributed to technological innovation across a number of industries, and how Formula One, the world’s leading motor sport, can be seen as the outlier of the automotive industry.

The relationship between technology and sport extends beyond F1 and technologies from other outlier environments are starting to change the world of sports. Team sports are notoriously difficult to officiate due to the pace at which they are played and the fact rules books tend to be littered by grey areas.

For example, cricket batsmen traditionally hold the option to decide whether or not to surrender their wicket if a decision is unclear, as in some cases only they honestly know if they have made contact with the ball before it is caught.

Hawk-Eye technology, a system which visually tracks the trajectory of a ball and displays a record of its statistically most likely path as a moving image, help cricket, tennis and football umpires/ referees make more accurate decisions, reducing injustice caused by human error.

All Hawk-Eye systems are based on the principles of triangulation using the visual images and timing data provided by high-speed video cameras. The technology has its origins in a subsidiary of Siemens, Roke Manor Research Limited, which specialises in image processing technology for use in applications such as visual positioning systems designed for space missions and location systems for the military – two classic outlier environments.

Putting tech through its paces

Hawk-Eye first appeared as a commentary feature on Channel 4’s coverage of live cricket. It was installed to assist umpires’ decision-making in 2008/09, by which point it was already being used in tennis – debuting at the 2005 US open.

Having become established as a technology that had added value to cricket and tennis, its deployment in football was first showcased at FIFA World Cup 2014 – triggering a vibration on a wristband worn by the referee if the ball crosses the goal-line.

According to an announcement made by FIFA, it may not just be the referees who are equipped with wearable technology soon, as the international football governing body has declared itself open to the idea of allowing players to use wearables too. Insightful results are gleaned from monitoring athletes while they are performing, which until now has only been possible in the gym or on the training ground/ test track.

While wearables are already registering an impact on the training ground, through gathering performance and health data on professional athletes and sportspeople in a competitive environment, sports scientists can develop new ways to improve performance and make sports safer.

This blossoming relationship between technology and sport is a pathway to further technological innovations that affect other industries. Sports generally, and the competition they create, present attributes of an outlier environment. Teams and individuals push the boundaries of how they train, prepare and execute, even if the result is to get that extra 1% of performance.

The stakes are high and wrong decisions caused by human error can result in losses of millions for clubs. As a result professional sport is becoming a hotbed of biological, medical, nutritional, physiological, psychological and even technological research and testing.

Research on methods to maintain maximum performance output from athletes has led to numerous innovative product developments from energy gels to advanced systems that test and improve reaction times.

Bringing outliers in

The role of outliers in incubating extreme innovation has gone full cycle. From using technologies developed for space in sport to sharing research and development from sports testing with technology innovators. Quite simply, any environment where the stakes are exceptionally high for whatever reason is a foundation for innovation.

Enterprises such as partnerships between companies operating in different industries affected by unique outlier environments; the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize; and bringing wearable technology into professional sports environments are ways of stimulating a culture of innovation.

The cross-pollination of ideas, expertise and technology that evolves from these initiatives will undoubtedly register an impact on the technology we use every day at home, on the move and in the workplace.

Read my previous blog How innovation happens part 1: outliers in the game of progress. Follow me on Twitter @mehulkapadia.


Tata Communications was the Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1® between 2012 and 2019. Tata Communications was also the Official Managed Connectivity Supplier to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, and Official Digital Transformation Partner to ROKiT Williams Racing until the end of the 2019 season.