Imagine sitting at home watching a baseball game and being able to feel the impact of the ball and bat as your favorite slugger connects with the game winning homer. How about feeling the pop in the catcher's mitt from a 102 MPH Aroldis Chapman fastball? That and more is possible utilizing something called the "Internet of Things."
In an article this weekend on informationweek.com, titled, Baseball Meets Internet Of Things: Bye, Bad Umpires?, Michael Endler predicts that by 2020, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be used in baseball and other sports to provide better fan experiences, better officiating and better training apps.
By embedding sensors in bats, gloves and other equipment as well as placing sensors throughout the stadium, the entire game of baseball could change and, according to Endler, these changes are a certainty. IoT is being used already on more than 10 billion devices today - from cell phones to cars to industrial equipment - and that number could be as high as 50 billion by the end of the decade.
Certainly one of the earliest applications of IoT in baseball would be in the area of umpiring. Affixing sensors to foul poles, foul lines, the bases, the fence and having a virtual superimposed strike zone would practically make umpires obsolete. Tennis already uses similar technology for line calls and net balls. John McEnroe would have nobody to scream at in today's world of pro tennis, although I suspect he'd still be screaming at the computer - maybe even picking it up and throwing it à la Bobby Knight!
Those bang-bang calls at first base would no longer be blown. With precise accuracy, a computer would easily determine if the ball entered the first baseman's glove a millisecond before the runner's foot hit the bag. No more questionable balls and strikes because an umpire didn't see the slider dip low and outside a fraction of an inch before crossing the plate. Oh, and you could forget about ever worrying about an umpire strike similar to this past year's NFL referee strike!
Better Training - Injury Prevention
This technology could also be used for detecting slight variances in a pitcher's delivery or a batter's swing. That imperceptible quarter inch drop of the elbow on a videotape would be very noticeable using IoT and would make it possible to detect the mechanical reasons for slumps early and precisely. Grooving the prototype swing, pick-off move or delivery to the plate would sure be easier if this technology were used in practice, too.
It could also be used to alert trainers to athletic motions that could lead to injury and to design better equipment for preventing injuries.
Better Immersive Experience For Fans
Perhaps the most exciting application of IoT technology would be for baseball fans. Like something out of a Disney theme park attraction, it would be theoretically possible for fans at home to feel the impact of the wall on a spectacular home run-robbing catch or a collision at the plate between the catcher and someone trying to score.
Hey, as long as we're going this far, why not make it 5-D? Advertisers may be able to take advantage of smell, too! The occasional vendor shouting, "Pizza ... get your hot pizza!" accompanied by the aroma of gooey cheese and pepperoni (sponsored by Papa John's or Pizza Hut) might easily be incorporated with a one click delivery order from your TV's remote (but please, spare us the gaseous fan in the seat next to us!).
Will This Really Happen?
I'm a bit more skeptical about these things, particularly the ones involving 4-D or 5-D effects for fans, than Michael Endler is. As he points out, creating sensors that would be unobtrusive to the players is one hurdle and powering those tiny sensors is another major problem. He also points out that somebody is going to need to service all of these micro devices to ensure that they are always working properly. Baseball might need to have a real umpire or two on call for backup duty, after all!
I certainly am not ready to proclaim that all or any of these things will happen in the next seven years. I hope Michael is right and I am wrong, though - especially about the fan interactive immersion part. Do the Baltimore Orioles still have a broom girl hottie that gives the third base coach a love tap on the rear and a peck on the cheek during the seventh inning stretch?
Pitching Machine Stop Quote of the Day:"The future ain't what it used to be." - Yogi Berra