IBM is using its Bluemix cloud development platform to bring a cognitive experience to fans watching the US Open tennis tournament.
John Kent, program manager for IBM Global Sponsorship Marketing, who is responsible for all the technology and experiences IBM creates for the US Open, said the tournament will, for the first time, tap into Bluemix and its cognitive intelligence tools—using the platform to build an augmented fan experience for the tournament’s 5 million online fans when they view videos and photos from the matches.
In essence, IBM is using Bluemix to help bring its Watson cognitive computing technology to the fore at the US Open. IBM has employed Watson technology at the US Open over the last two years, but Watson was basically behind the scenes. This year, IBM is bringing Watson directly to the public.
“Watson made a very limited appearance last year at the US Open and it was predominantly behind the scenes,” Kent said. “So from a public visibility perspective, I would say everything that we’re doing with Watson is new to the public and to the fans this year.”
One new Watson-based feature is a cognitive concierge app that will enhance the experience of fans on-site on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, where the tournament is going on. The app runs on Apple iOS and Android devices.
The US Open mobile app Guest Services companion features a Watson-powered discovery tool that enables fans to ask questions in natural language and get answers about a range of tournament topics, including transportation and directions, food and drink options, on-site services and more.
“You can ask Watson a question about: ‘Where can I get a hot dog?’ ‘Where can I get a beer?’ ‘Where is the nearest restroom?’ And Watson will return the response back to you,” Kent told eWEEK. “You get to type in your question using natural language and get a response back. It’s enhanced if you’re on-site because there are beacons that help determine where you are on the grounds, so you can be given a more precise answer to where things are based on your location.”
Moreover, because Watson continues to learn with each query, it will refine its knowledge base and be able to provide more precise responses over time.
IBM said its apps also offer an interactive second-screen experience for fans watching the US Open on TV.
Meanwhile, IBM also is quietly piloting a project to make fans’ interaction with Watson even more conversational, Kent noted. “Right now, with the Watson interface you have to ask a question and you get an answer,” he said. “But we’re trying to make it more conversational using the conversation API that recently came out and we’re working on applying that to the Guest Services feature so that it’s more conversational.”
For example, Kent said IBM has a pilot working where a user can just type in to Watson: “I’m hungry.” And Watson will ask the user what kind of food would they like. If the user responds, “Mexican,” it will direct them to the Angry Taco, one of the food stands on the grounds.
“So it’s much more conversational and much more like humans interact with one another,” Kent said. “We actually have that functioning with Pepper, our robot interface. It’s a more natural human-to-machine interaction.”
In addition to integrating Watson’s cognitive capabilities into the US Open app, IBM and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) are tapping into other Watson services available through Bluemix to deliver real-time analysis and insights about the tournament, Kent said.
“We have been working with the USTA for over 25 years and since that time things have evolved,” he said. “We’ve gone through doing websites, having mobile sites, to now apps, and this year it’s really about bringing Watson and cognitive in and how those technologies can help.”
IBM Uses Bluemix to Bring Watson to the US Open
Among the digital platforms IBM delivers for the USTA is a content management system that enables publishing to the USOpen.org website and all the organization’s digital platforms in real time. New this year for the video process—specifically for on-demand video—IBM is using the Watson speech-to-text API available on the Bluemix platform to listen to videos and create subtitles automatically for the videos, as well as produce transcripts of the videos. All that data is entered into the content management system automatically. The USTA editorial team can edit and refine that text and then publish it to the platform, said Kent. And any changes they make are then sent back to Watson so it can learn from those adaptations.
Additionally, all the photos taken by the USTA photography team are all analyzed by Watson, and players and celebrities are automatically identified and meta-tagged so the USTA will have search capabilities within the publishing environment. So, as users are looking for photos of various players or celebrities to build galleries or tell stories, they will have quicker access to some of that content, Kent said. This uses the Watson Visual Recognition API, which also is available on Bluemix.
“Each year, IBM designs, develops and delivers a compelling digital experience that enables us to engage, entertain and inform our fans in entirely new ways, while transforming how they encounter and enjoy the tournament,” said Kirsten Corio, managing director of Ticket Sales and Digital Strategy for the USTA, in a statement.
Kent said, for IBM, the goal is simple: to continually create experiences for tennis fans that are compelling and interactive. And at the heart of that is data. IBM collects all the data around a point and the chair umpire system collects the outcome of that point, such as whether there’s foot fault involved. The courtside statistician collects additional data on whether that point was a winner or an unforced error. Radar and serve speed also are captured, and IBM also has access to the official line calling system for player and ball position data.
IBM sends that data around the grounds to all the scoreboards, to the media and to all the digital platforms. Last year saw more than 16 million new unique users of the digital platforms over the course of the two-week period of the US Open.
One of IBM’s premier offerings for scoring is its SlamTracker app, now available on mobile devices.
“This is the first time SlamTracker is available on mobile here at the US Open, since we are starting to see a shift in user behavior from desktop to mobile,” Kent said. “Last year mobile eclipsed desktop significantly, so we, like many businesses, are focused on the mobile experience. And SlamTracker allows for the real-time, point-by-point scoring, but it also acts much like a commentator after every point concludes—where it will act much like a commentator and offer some perspective on what occurred during that point.”
SlamTracker also has a stage item in which IBM can offer some kind of insight. For instance, if a player hits an ace, IBM could put up a graphic of how many aces the player has or something relevant to the point to make it more informative for the person following along online.
Also, new to SlamTracker this year is some additional analytics, Kent said.
“We’ve done some analytics around something we refer to as ‘pressure situations,'” he said. “So, for example, when a player is down Love-40 or down in a match—two sets for a men’s match—we’ve analyzed the last eight or nine years of Grand Slam tennis data to understand how that player performs in that particular situation. And the analytics are done on a Bluemix platform using Apache Spark.”
Kent noted that at the core of SlamTracker’s predictive analytics technology is its “Keys to the Match” feature, which analyzes eight years of Grand Slam tennis data comprised of 41 million data points.
“Watson is revolutionizing the way fans can navigate the tournament this year,” said Noah Syken, vice president of global sponsorships and client executive programs at IBM, in a statement. “By tapping into unstructured data, Watson is enabling us to extract and apply insights that can improve how people engage with technology on-site, making their experiences more meaningful and natural.”