The Internet of Things (IoT) is a prevalent buzzword in today’s technology discourse, referring to the interconnectedness between everyday objects via the internet, which produces massive amounts of data. But Edward Coyle, distinguished professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP), argues that people are part of the equation too.
Coyle is referring to his VIP pilot project, Internet of People and Things (IoPT). Formerly known as eStadium, IoPT is the longest-running program in VIP’s 17-year tenure. The IoPT project aims to draw people back to the stadium and enhance the fan experience. At the same time, it allows students and faculty to design, develop, deploy and operate sophisticated systems to study and optimize multimedia traffic on wireless and cellular networks during large events, such as football games.
The mission of IoPT is to give game day attendees the ability to replay video footage right on their smart phones. Any game-day fan can visit estadium.gatech.edu and view any replay on the IoPT web app. The game footage is pulled from the video feed for the stadium jumbotron and transmitted by the web app via wireless networks. Alongside the high quality video sits a description of each play produced by NCAA statisticians working the game. Student volunteers involved in IoPT match up the video clips with the corresponding play description, so fans can easily scroll and discover which plays they want to watch.
Within the web app, fans have the ability to see a drive tracker depicting how the team proceeded down the field. Fans can scroll through all the drives throughout the game. The drive data also comes from the NCAA statisticians working the game. Fans can see team stats and details on offense, defense and special teams.
“Our hope is that having the ability to review any play they choose might draw fans back to the stadium, rather than watching from their living room,” said Coyle. “We want to offer them the best experience possible and grow an interactive community of Tech football fans.”
Stadiums became the test bed for IoPT in the early 2000s – before anyone else was providing replay videos on-demand. Coyle found that when the program was in its infancy, people would share certain videos that would go viral. He found that leveraging a critical mass of tech-savvy students was helpful for developing the IoPT app.
With such a large testbed, the IoPT project often runs up against challenges concerning data networking and limited Wi-Fi access. That’s where Randy Abler comes in, the associate director of VIP and leader of the Intelligent Digital Communications (IDC) team under IoPT. The IDC team focuses on examining network capability at the stadium and developing technology that can improve the environment for future generations.
“Understanding the very dense network environment is important to keep IoPT video streaming at optimal levels,” said Abler. “We are also keeping an eye on the communications spectrum to monitor for interference.”
Abler’s group leverages radio frequency sensors within the stadium. The Bobby Dodd test-bed offers 50,000 cell phone users and creates a lot of traffic challenges. IDC uses three nodes positioned within the stadium in order to locate users, if needed. Real-world applications include security, as the system enables monitoring of any rogue behavior occurring within the stadium. The team can also monitor any interference to ensure quality of communications for fans, security personnel and coaches.
IoPT has other goals past streaming video and game-day communication. The sensitive equipment installed throughout the stadium also measures structural vibration and fan movement on game days.
“We’ve gathered data when fans are jumping up and down on game days, which showed how the actions of the fans induced motion in the structure of the stadium,” said Coyle. “We are examining the data to try to understand the consequences of the motion for the maintenance of the stands.”
Coyle and his team also realized they could start measuring and monitoring what fans are excited about throughout the game. The equipment measures how much energy is generated by fans at any given moment. A correlation exists between exciting Georgia Tech touchdowns or completed passes and the amount of energy generated in the stands. Thus, a sensor network that was primarily built for structural monitoring is suddenly producing useful information that can enhance the app experience. The next phase of IoPT is to rank plays by popularity within the web app, based on the fan’s energy.
“The whole notion of IoPT is that all the data we’re sensing from everywhere in the stadium may be useful for different purposes for different people,” said Coyle. “And we want to make all of that happen.”
Commercial opportunities exist for IoPT, and some students are laser-focused on making that happen. Pedro Pinto, an undergraduate in the program studying electrical engineering, has worked on IoPT for two semesters and considers himself an avid sports fan.
“I’m working on things for IoPT that I’d like to see as a fan,” said Pinto. “Smartphones and software automation have improved every aspect of our lives, and there are plenty of sports apps out there. However, currently there is no unified experience for people inside the stadium. At IoPT, we feel that’s something we can offer Tech and other universities. We hope the ACC will start using IoPT, since we have existing partnerships, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Coyle sees the IoPT app being applied to more situations down the road – from the ability to know how long the bathroom lines are to ordering food from your seat in the stands. Digital connectivity and IoPT could have implications outside of sports as well, like smart cities where sensing technologies can monitor traffic or alert emergency services. The data gathered by the IoPT team that underlies the entire project is feeding into research to improve wireless communications and sensor networks; the cornerstone of Coyle and Abler’s research at Tech.
“The IoPT team has added to my research capabilities with their ability to really build and deploy things,” said Coyle. “It is now a critical part of my research effort, and that’s why so many faculty like having their VIP teams, because their teams enhance their research capabilities. It’s people power. And in exchange for their contributions, students gain hands-on learning in a particular area. It’s a win-win.”