When the organisers of this year’s Sydney Marathon wanted to provide television viewers with more data about the participants, they had to deploy technology from an unlikely source.

Peter Gray, Dimension Data’s senior director of technology in its global sports practice, told IoT Hub that the company’s involvement with the Sydney Marathon represented a challenge for the sports tracking technology platform it had first developed just a few years ago.

The expected method of using wearables to measure the runners' performance could not be used because “top-level marathon runners on the whole prefer not to have any devices or units fitted to them; many of them won’t wear watches or similar technology,” he explained.

“So we had to devise an approach to retrieve similar information without affecting the runners’ performance in any way."

Gray said that the system used for the Sydney Marathon was based on GPS technology, mounted to bicycles ridden by personnel who would follow the runners as they navigated the track, and would keep pace with any breakaway groups that would form.

These bike-mounted sensors would keep track of the speed and location of the runners.

“The data is collected every second and then transmitted to the Dimension Data cloud, and within our cloud environment we run an analytics platform that allows us to correlate that raw data from the sensors against the course information and other data such as localised weather conditions,” he said.

Dimension Data has plenty of experience with bike-mounted sensors, having provided the technology for the past two years for the Tour de France.

“From the analytics platform, we then publish the data to a series of data services which the broadcasters are able to access through their graphics software and publish the information live on their broadcast,” he continued.

“By taking advantage of the flexibility of IoT devices, we’ve been able to use technology that we’ve deployed for other sports and do it in a way that was very pragmatic and adaptive for the scenario that we needed to be able to cater for.”

Collaboration is key

Gray highlighted the importance of the collaboration between Dimension Data and the broadcasters of a sporting event, whether it be Channel 10 in the case of the Sydney Marathon, or France TV in the case of the Tour de France.

“The approach that we take is to work very closely with the television production team, and it’s a very collaborative approach around understanding the information they want to share, the stories they want to tell, and the information needs that are going to be required,” he said.

“Furthermore, throughout the live broadcast, we’re continuously monitoring the event and the data, and highlighting opportunities where broadcasters might be able to use the collected data to show a particular piece of insight.

“Different situations occur within races that perhaps you weren’t prepared for or haven’t predicted, so being able to work closely with the Sydney Marathon by having our analytics lead sit with the production team gave them access to information and insight that they could then use on the fly.”

Continuous evolution of the platform

Gray said that the company has been working on improvements to the algorithms used in the analytics platform to provide more consistent insights.

“One of the things we’ve been working on for the last 18 months is developing algorithms within the analytics platform that deal with gaps in data or inconsistencies caused by data and provide a consistent experience to the viewer,” he said.

“Being able to understand those types of issues and being able to address them, rejecting invalid values, and processing and interpolating for data that may be missing for whatever reason, such as loss of GPS signal within urban environments, will be a key focus for future development of the platform.”

Gray also said that they’re continuing development of integrating biometric data into their services.

“We’ve been working with other events in other sports around increasing the amount of biometric information we’re gathering from the athletes,” he said.

“For example, at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race earlier this year we were providing live heart rate and cadence information for the broadcasters as well.

“We’re trying to increase the understanding for viewers about what the athlete is going through throughout their experience within the event.”