Oct. 8, 2010
By Jon Cooper
– At 40 feet tall by 60 feet wide, the video screen on the Wardlaw Building in the south end zone at Bobby Dodd Stadium is unbeatable for fans seeking a crisp, larger-than-life view of replays of Joshua Nesbitt navigating through traffic or Brad Jefferson wrapping up an opposing ball-carrier.
It’s less appealing, to those fans who may have missed the replay, or want to see the play more than once. Those fans are out of luck — or at least used to be.
Their luck has changed, thanks to eStadium, which is giving fans a unique viewing experience within the confines of Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“Say you’re out getting a hot dog or using the rest room or something and you hear loud cheers and you’ve just missed something. If you wait a minute or two, that play will be available on your phone,” said Dr. Edward J. Coyle, Arbutus Chair for the Integration of Research and Education at Georgia Tech. “You can catch things that you missed or you can go back to see things again. The penalties are on there, too. So if there’s a controversial penalty, you can play referee and look at the video over and over again.”
In addition to replays fans can retrieve up-to-the-minute stats, see drive charts, an out-of-town scoreboard — which also allows fans to check results of other college football games around the nation as well as the four major professional sports — and even get weather updates. They’ll get this for free and with an unobstructed view on their smartphone.
While access to replays is only available inside the stadium on game day until midnight, when they become readily available, all of that week’s game information stays on the site until the end of the week, when it is updated in anticipation of the following week’s game.
It’s a large, collaborative project that dates back to 2001 when Dr. Coyle was a professor at Purdue University.
“The goal at the time was to try to make the stadium at Purdue the most technologically advanced stadium,” he recalled. “So with the help from a grant from Cisco, they installed a Wi-Fi network, a wireless network in the stadium. We actually had PDAs (Professional Digital Assistants) — this was back in the old, clunky PDA days, with Wi-Fi cards in them that students would hand out to fans and let them access the eStadium applications. The applications were things like up-to-the minute stats and on-demand video of each play that took place in the game.
“The project was pretty far ahead of its time back then because the devices used to access the web were the clunky PDAs,” he added. “We didn’t have cellular access. As phones got smarter and more capable and as cellular went from 2G services to 3G services, the download rates became much faster, our services got much better and people could access them via their own phones rather than us having pass stuff out to them when they came to the game.”
When Dr. Coyle arrived at Georgia Tech in 2008, he continued working with his colleagues at Purdue to perfect eStadium, beginning a similar project at Tech. Purdue and Georgia Tech are the only schools currently running this program, although Ohio State and Clemson are working on similar ones.
He emphasized that his student-run eStadium Team deserves credit for development of the applications.
“It’s an example of something we call a Vertically-Integrated Project team or VIP team for short,” he said. “It has sophomores through PhD students and faculty on it. Students can be a member of a team starting their sophomore year and stay on until they graduate as a senior and then, if they do research in the area, they can stay and participate.
“What’s unusual for a student team is that they actually get to deploy what they create and real people get to use it,” he added.
On game day, the team kicks into high gear.
“Four students from the team are in the operations booth in the stadium during each home game,” Dr. Coyle explained. “They have access in the booth to the video feed for the big screen in the stadium. They have software that can start/stop recording any part of that video feed. Since that feed includes video of every play as it is happening, they can “grab” a video clip for every play. Once they have the video, they match it up with the official NCAA play-by-play description of it and encode the video into the various formats required by the media players on different phones/browsers.”
Video will not be available for road games, but all the stats will be updated.
Dr. Coyle sees a bright future in this sort of in-stadium technology.
“We’ve created a small company called Events 180 and its goal is to see if there’s a commercial market for things like this. I think there will be eventually,” he said. “The model will probably be a combination of advertising and maybe, with additional services included that might not be accessible to everybody. There might be special apps for season-ticket holders. There are different ways we can go with it.”
He added that the team is constructing a Wi-Fi network for the stadium to handle expected jumps in capacity, and that as traffic increases, consideration will be made to tying in other social networking programs.
Fans are encouraged to send ideas on how to improve eStadium.
They won’t even have to worry about missing the big play anymore!