Artificial Intelligence for improving team sports

Researchers at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) are participating in a study to develop a system for evaluating sport performance through the application of Artificial Intelligence techniques to automatically analyse the development of plays.

The principal aim of the project is to determine certain performance indicators in team sport competition and training for analysing what kind of plays and strategies are most apt for each case.  "In the near future, performance analysis of executions and decisions in real time could be made, providing precise feedback to improve performance during competition”, remarked the head of the research at the Artificial Intelligence Group at  the UC3M Colmenarejo Campus, Miguel Ángel Patricio, who is carrying out this project with the research group Deporte y Rendimiento (Sport and Performance) from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM).

One of the mainstays of the project is to use Artificial Intelligence to evaluate the actions which make up the plays in team sports.   The scientists have focused the first prototype on basketball, and they hope to obtain models for automated analysis of sport behaviour.  They register all the actions of the players on the court through a series of cameras and then describe what has happened by applying complex reasoning algorithms which allow them to determine the tactics and types of play used.

A more objective analysis

According to the researchers, a significant advantage of this type of system is that it applies a certain objectivity when analysing the game without having to depend on a human expert who may obtain different results according to his/her background, knowledge, or the context.  "Another very important advantage”, added Miguel Ángel Patricio, “is the higher quantity of information which can be processed, given that machines have a much greater capacity than a human being”.  The research therefore will  advance with new technologies. "At the beginning, its application to sport produced a certain amount of rejection because the huge amount of data produced couldn’t be processed.  But with time we are seeing that the information provided by these new technologies is more concrete and useful for athletes and coaches”, noted UPM professor, Ignacio Refoyo, who forms part of a team of Real Madrid basketball coaches.

Through the application of Artificial Intelligence techniques, specifically those related to automated information knowledge extraction systems, the project will also attempt to exploit automatically acquired sport activity information.  “Through these techniques”, Patricio pointed out, “we are trying to interpret a large quantity of acquired information to find relationships and patterns which may even be unknown to experts in sports activities”.  This could help identify why some teams win more or lose more games for example.

In parallel, the UC3M Artificial Intelligence Group is developing another research line for the application of new sensors to evaluate sport performance. Specifically, they are studying the possibilities of time-of-flight cameras, which Microsoft has agreed to incorporate into the Xbox video game console to interpret users’ movements. The goal is to use this type of sensor in biomechanics to represent athletes’ movements in a tridimensional manner. This could have applications for other types of daily physical activity and even help with rehabilitation from injuries.

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