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Nirmit Desai, IBM Research Scientist

Nirmit Desai, IBM Research Scientist

By Nirmit Desai

Sharing photos, videos and one-liners on Instagram and Twitter was a major part of the fun of last week’s MTV’s Video Music Awards. Pop stars traded gibes and images faster than VMA host Miley Cyrus changed outfits–and fans watching from around the globe joined in.

But that kind of willy-nilly sharing isn’t a good fit for every event and venue. The United States Tennis Association, for instance, focuses on providing ticketholders with a rich multimedia experience on site at the US Open in New York, which is building to its crescendo this week.

So, to enrich the fans’ enjoyment, IBM Research scientists are testing a new service at the Open we call Simulcastr. Fans at the tennis center who download the US Open app to their iPhones can choose real-time video feeds from various parts of the venue–anything from scenes of athletes heading for matches to shots of the queues at the refreshment stands. Unlike with the popular video streaming service Meerkat and Periscope, the videos can’t be seen by anybody outside the tennis center.

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Collaborating closely with the USTA, we’re experimenting with a technology that could someday emerge as a game-changer for organizations that run sports and entertainment venues–making it even more enjoyable to attend an event in person rather than watching on TV.

At the US Open this year, we’re just scratching the surface of what might be possible in coming years. For now,  fans aren’t permitted to shoot videos and share them with others. The video for Simulcastr is being shot by USTA employees or fixed cameras. But you can imagine the possibilities for sports venues of all types in the future: Fans might be able to choose from dozens or even hundreds of video feeds shot by other fans scattered around a stadium or ballpark. Or a fan may “subscribe” to a channel focused on their favorite athlete and gain access to a constantly updated collection of videos featuring her or him.

Simulcastr is the first harvest of a vision of the future of technology that’s emerging within IBM Research. Today, about 90 percent of the digital data in the world is generated at the outer edge of our networks–via smartphones, sensors and the like.  As the volume of such data continues to explode, it will be difficult to transport and store and process–too costly and time consuming. So, rather than handling it all via the Internet and cloud computing centers, why not use local Wi-Fi networks and nearby computing and storage resources instead? That way we can unlock the value of all that data.

At the center of this approach is the idea of sharing. Everybody understands the advantages of open source software. Many people contribute to and share software packages–for the benefit of all participants. With our new approach to computing, people will instead share hardware resources–everything from Wi-Fi hotspots to sensors to the underutilized storage and data-processing capabilities on our smartphones and tablets.

This approach  presents major technological challenges, though. You’re connecting and managing a large collection of different kinds of devices that are temporarily in a specific place. The management system has to be able to identify the devices that are present, confirm that they’re ready to participate in peer-to-peer sharing, and then distribute computing tasks to the various devices in a highly-efficient way. Then the system has to aggregate the content from different sources, present viewing choices to participants, and serve up pieces of content to the people who choose to see them.

Because of the complexity and real-time nature of these tasks, they must be managed autonomously by computers. That will require the use of powerful cognitive technologies–including image analytics that recognize specific people and activities in video streams, and deep learning algorithms that enable computers to gain knowledge through their interactions with data.  I have focused on videos primarily in this blog post, but many other types of data will be addressable in this way, as well, including information collected from accelerometers, GPS devices, connected vehicles and other types of equipment.

I can imagine many scenarios where this approach to computing could come into play. Here are just a few:

–Authorities in a city could harness it when there’s a power blackout or a damaging storm–both for understanding what’s going on and for telling citizens how to respond. Further, when conventional communications break down in such events, as they often do, the personal devices and vehicles can provide alternative channels for communication.

–Media organizations could use it to gather real-time video reports during a storm, a fire, a riot or a crime in progress.

–Insurance companies or police could use videos captured by connected cars to quickly gather evidence about the cause of a traffic accident.

Ever since I grew up under modest circumstances in the Indian state of Gujarat, I have dreamed of playing a major part in defining where the world goes. Working at IBM Research makes it possible for me to fulfill my dreams. The Simulcastr project is a small beginning, but I believe that we have embarked on the road to a new approach to computing. It may take many years or decades to get there, fully, but what a fascinating journey it will be.

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March 8, 2016
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Good post, Nirmit. I got a good impression that IBM’s new service at the Open would enrich the fans’ enjoyment. It also nice to give a sense of exclusivity to the fans, as the videos can’t be seen by anybody outside the tennis center. Thank you for sharing your post.

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Posted by: Glucoberry Dan Glucocoa
September 22, 2015
2:03 pm

I followed every match Roger Federer played, even though it meant staying up all night so that I don’t miss any part of his action packed performance, especially those awesome new shots he comes up with. Now if something like this app could capture all of his moves by a dedicated camera to him and then publish it somewhere online (may be on IBM SmartCloud), even after the match is finished, would mean a great deal to all fans. And this could easily be applied to any other sports-star.
Great job Nirmit, this innovation can really change the way we see sports, and obviously can be extend to many many different sectors.

Posted by: Mohit Gattani
September 16, 2015
2:36 pm

Great innovative thought …..

Posted by: srinivas
September 16, 2015
1:04 pm

Great article, Nirmit! Love seeing the Simulcastr tested at the US Open – what fun!

Posted by: Barbara McManus
September 16, 2015
8:32 am

Not only these scenarios, there are many other cases as well where this can be used. Technology, education, retail, travel, etc are other scenarios where i can visualise it.
IBM has given so much to the technology. Their constant innovations in technology is invaluable.

Posted by: Savitha
September 16, 2015
7:01 am

Great !

Posted by: Zuhair
September 16, 2015
3:15 am

Great work Nirmit. Would love to discuss in details sometime.

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September 16, 2015
2:13 am

Wow, great

Posted by: Sumit Kaushal
September 16, 2015
12:54 am

Dear Desai Very nice work and good thinking, God bless you for further journey.

Posted by: Piyush Doshi
September 15, 2015
1:05 pm

Hey Nitin, great to see the smart things you are doing.

Posted by: Debashree
September 15, 2015
12:47 pm

@aditya, @Sabarinathan: Thanks for your feedback! The main point here is to keep computing as close to the origin of data as possible. With 90% of all data coming out of devices on the ground not being used at all, the proposed approach provides an alternative to the current cloud-only approaches for unlocking the value of that data. In this pilot, we focused on video because that puts the most burden on the cloud-only paradigm. This is not about novel ways of sharing videos. It also has a good side effect of respecting broadcaster rights as the videos are kept within the venue. (from: One of the researchers collaborating with Nirmit)

Posted by: Shahrokh Daijavad
September 15, 2015
11:10 am

It does not sound something new or innovative.. we have hell lot of tools todo the same.What new in this ….

Posted by: Sabarinathan
September 15, 2015
10:02 am

Good idea but this doesn’t sound any different from whatever platform which exists today in the world of video sharing, all you are doing is restricting the video sharing among the users in the app. So how does it help is what I wanted to know.

When it comes to new computing techniques..that indeed requires lot of algorithms and new techniques to put up the live feed to the users with image scanning technologies.

Posted by: aditya
September 15, 2015
8:56 am

Cool Stuff

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September 15, 2015
8:18 am

Indeed Great

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September 15, 2015
7:15 am

great work

Posted by: bijayini
September 15, 2015
5:42 am

though not unimaginable concept but this type of hardware sharing is possible when we as an user, possess strong beliefs in open source in the context of sharing private computing (storage/usage) for a social cause. We need to educate user now and that is the next big challenge.
Thanks alot Nirmit for sharing this experience; I have gone thru the analytics done by IBM in Wimbledon (IBM Slamtracker) from quite few years. But this US open analytics opens doors for new way to another dimension of next-set of computing.
Pratibh from IBM India

Posted by: Pratibh Trivedi
September 15, 2015
4:13 am

Great work and kudos to IBM Research scientists

Posted by: Venkat
September 14, 2015
7:58 pm

Great work and interesting article…Proud to see someone involved in this level of research from my home state !!

Posted by: Tejal Shah
September 14, 2015
3:09 am

Awesome article. You are definitely changing the world and making things more connected. All the best, Nirmit.

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September 13, 2015
3:59 am

Great article. Very interesting as we are locally involved in supporting the European Masters Golf Tournament here in The Netherlands. #KLMOpen We created an app (KLM Open Flight Tracker) to improve customer experience being able to follow all flights, including Leaderboard and starting list. It also enables spectators to follow the event through a live radio broadcast. Your article describes a great enhancement to customer experience in and around these events. Thanks.

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September 13, 2015
2:50 am

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Posted by: batikdewandari
September 12, 2015
2:40 pm

Best of luck, great work, very interactive, definitely will be popular at the sports events like tennis grand slams.

Posted by: Murthy S
September 12, 2015
2:35 am

This is a great news and would definitely excite my other like me. Mr. Desai is really doing a great work.

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