Updated: October 24, 2020 10:22:57 am
NOT SO long ago, Botan Osman was designing technology to track and trace people after terror attacks, industrial accidents or natural calamities. But now, as chief executive of British tech firm Restrata, he is adapting the same systems to protect cricketers from Covid — and help organisers bring the crowds back to stadiums.
“Factories, offices, oil fields, power plants… we have been helping a lot of people day-to-day. But our sports-related work gets a lot of press because, well, sport is interesting,” says Osman, speaking to The Indian Express from London.
Since the IPL got underway in the UAE in a bio-bubble last month, Restrata’s Bluetooth tracker is being worn by the cricketers — around their necks — at all times, except while playing or training, to ensure that nobody steps out of the bubble unnoticed. The technology was also used for England’s home Test series against the West Indies and Pakistan earlier this year.
In the IPL, the location and movement of each player, support staff and others involved in the games, is monitored in real-time with sensors placed across 13 hotels, three stadiums, training grounds and buses ferrying the players.
If social-distancing rules are broken — or if a person enters a non-designated zone — an alert is triggered. Restrata then reports Bluetooth tracker for terror attacks finds new use in pandemic time — at the IPL reports the violation to the Indian cricket board, which will impose penalties on violators that range from six-day quarantine to suspension and even removal.
Speaking to The Indian Express earlier about the IPL bio-bubble, Sunrisers Hyderabad mentor V V S Laxman had said: “We have been given a device, which tracks our movement. The BCCI has taken precautions so that players remain safe…Overall, it’s working very well.”
Officials say a similar technology is set to be used at stadiums to ensure social distancing when spectators are allowed in the stands. Osman says they are developing new algorithms so that thousands of people can be allowed inside stadiums using this technology.
In September, Restrata was involved in a pilot project in England where 2,500 fans were allowed to watch a domestic T20 county match between Surrey and Hampshire at The Oval. Spectators were given Bluetooth devices similar to what the players in the IPL are wearing, and their movements tracked inside the stadium.
And yet, cricket, or Covid, was not what this device was developed for.
Osman, who has consulted for various British firms operating in the Middle East, says it was originally designed to trace people’s location, the risk they faced and elicit a response.
“You are thinking about how to protect people from acts of terrorism, or a hurricane or an industrial accident. These are all risks that require preparation and monitoring,” Osman says.
“So if I am in an industrial accident, let’s say at an oil company, then our technology will be used to understand how many people are there right now, how many people can we move to safety and who is missing — three very important questions. If you can answer these questions in five seconds, rather than in five minutes, you have saved a life potentially,” he says.
The pandemic, Osman says, has brought a new risk dimension: human contact. Since proximity between people was never a big risk before, Restrata had to tweak its technology to monitor the distance between people.
Since the pandemic began, a majority of sporting events, including the IPL, have been held in front of empty stands. And as life slowly returns to a new normal, organisers, like those in charge of that T20 county game, are looking at this technology to fill the stands in a phased manner.
Osman admits it will be a challenge, but he remains optimistic. “The challenge is not just contact but managing the flow of all these people. Our devices give a location precision of around 30 cm, which is an extremely high accuracy,” he says. “We also have video analytics when needed. We believe this will be useful across all phases of return.”
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