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Pitch-Tracking System Provides Rare Insight

Photonics Spectra
Feb 1998
Michael D. Wheeler

NBC's all-star commentator lineup of Joe Morgan, Bob Costas and Bob Uecker had an advantage when calling each game of the 1997 World Series between the Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians.

NBC viewers followed every pitch in the 1997 World Series with the aid of SuperVision, a pitch-tracking system developed by QuesTec Imaging Inc.

For the first time in World Series history, the broadcasters and viewers were able to see the exact trajectory of every pitch with the aid of the SuperVision pitch-tracking system. Developed by QuesTec Imaging Inc., SuperVision employs a unique combination of standard imaging hardware and sophisticated imaging software.

The developers mounted a single-chip, black-and-white high-resolution camera 45 ft above first base and home plate. A second charge-coupled device (CCD) camera was set up at the same height between third base and home plate. In the 0.4 second that the average pitch took to travel from the pitcher's mound to home plate, the CCD cameras snapped 16 frames.

The frames were processed by an imaging board manufactured by Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd. of Quebec that also served as a video capture board. Algorithms then converted two-dimensional signals to three-dimensional ones. The coordinates of the ball at the 16 positions were used to calculate the ball speed. The data were sent via serial wire to a computer workstation developed by Silicon Graphics of Mountain View, Calif. The same type of workstations were used for graphics for the Jurassic Park movie series.

Within one second after each pitch, viewers saw the computer-animated re-creation from the catcher's perspective. Trajectories of past pitches to the same batter were often overlaid to reveal trends and accuracy. A computer also generated an image of a field closely resembling the details of the stadium. The system displayed a 3-D view of the strike zone, a view from an overhead blimp and a 360° perspective of the ballpark.

Future applications

While the 1997 Series showcased the capabilities of SuperVision, QuesTec has employed some of the same technology for other applications. The most notable is GolfProView, which constructs and displays a 3-D model of a golf green and locates the golf ball. Unlike SuperVision, which charts the path of the pitch after it is thrown, GolfProView presents the optimal path of the putt. This computer-animated simulation is available for broadcast before the putt takes place. GolfProView has been used in four golf tournaments, among them the World Cup of Golf in Cape Town, South Africa.

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