The last six-seven months have been challenging for everyone across the globe, but it has also reaffirmed the importance of technology in solving problems faced across regions, industries and day-to-day life. The work being done at Tour de France is one such example of innovation and this can be replicated across sporting events to enhance user experience.
Over the last five years, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) has built the Tour de France with telecom giant NTT for delivering this digital fan experience from an infrastructure and security perspective all the way to sharing data insights about the riders and the race on social media and broadcast TV. Unarguably, the fan experience is very different this year as people are being encouraged not to gather in crowds, thereby making the ability to experience the race safely from home really important.
“Looking at where we are now, just about every sporting code is adjusting to managing a sporting event in a physical location while most of the fan experience takes place in a remote, virtual one,” says Jason Goodall, CEO, NTT. “We’ve seen some incredible innovation in this area, from enabling virtual editions of events such as Le Mans and the Tour de France to having virtual crowds at football matches. Technology has played a huge role in this and will continue to do so.”
Sharing the experience of conducting this 23-day-long cycling event, Peter Gray, SVP for Advanced Technology, NTT, says, “Sport is so important for people and their morale, and we wanted to ensure that despite the challenges this year, the Tour de France continues to bring people together, even if they can’t gather at the roadsides in France. The partnership was also a testbed for new emerging technology trends such as Internet of Things and machine learning. I think an agile digital-first approach will continue beyond Covid-19. It has really exposed what’s important and what’s a little more flexible.”
Sensors were mounted beneath the saddle of every rider in the Tour de France. These provided real-time data on speed and GPS location every second. This was transmitted using a moving mesh-network through gateways on the television, motorbikes, helicopters, and aircraft, where it was multiplexed with the broadcast video and transmitted to the finish line. NTT had created a Virtual Zone Technique which acted as a communication and control centre, streaming live data to the NTT Cloud, and to the television graphics team.
The cloud-based real-time analytics platform processes millions of data points a minute, organising and distributing it to a global team of technologists, data scientists, and marketers to create the stories that have come to define the Tour de France viewing experience. The data produces real-time data insight into the race situation, team tactics and individual’s performances. The NTT Predictor machine learning engine makes live race predictions such as stage favourites and estimated time of arrival for the peloton at any point on the course.