|Dr. Paul Hawkins - Founder/Creator, Hawk-Eye Innovations|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 10 January 2014 11:41
Technology in sport has been a sensitive topic for many years and has canvassed a number of different sports. Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd has provided their technology since 2001, when their system of tracking the ball was used in cricket. Since then, Hawk-Eye and founder/creator, Dr. Paul Hawkins have continued to enjoy great success.
Hawk-Eye has been used to track the ball in numerous sports, most prominently in cricket and tennis and 2013 saw the system installed into every stadium in the English Premier League. The historic move has so far been a success and has helped officials make the correct call in a number of close decisions.
The efforts of Dr. Hawkins have not gone unrecognised and he has won the young entrepreneur of the year award and seen his technology win numerous awards over the years. Dr. Hawkins, who earned his Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Durham, spoke to iSportconnect about the early days of Hawk-Eye, the Premier League contract and why he is in the United States concluding future deals.
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be the creator of Hawk-Eye.
I played cricket when I was growing up and I went to Durham University to try and pursue a career. However, I was less talented but more academically capable than my cricketing colleagues! I stayed on and did a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence. I have always been entrepreneurial and I came up with the idea of Hawk-Eye. Channel 4 had recently taken over the cricket rights on television and had taken production to new levels with innovations such as Red Zone. It was clear there was an appetite for new ideas.
For those who do not know, what is Hawk-Eye and what were your aims when you first created the technology?
Hawk-Eye is largely software based that uses cameras to track the ball in different sports. There are different purposes for Hawk-Eye. In cricket we track the ball from the bowler’s hand to the batsman so we know the speed, the swing, the pitch and where it hits the batsman. Critically, for lbws it can predict accurately where the ball would have passed the stumps. Similarly in tennis we track the ball throughout the whole of the rally and therefore know where every single ball lands. If there is a close-line call we can adjudicate whether the ball was in or out. For five sports we help officiate through tracking, but there are many other sports where we officiate in other ways. We have become by far the world’s leader in terms of advance technology between broadcast and officiating.
Hawk-Eye was first used for cricket. Can you explain a bit about how the deal came to be with Channel 4?
We approached them and there were talks throughout 1999. The way that broadcasters work is that they want to see a finished product before they decide if they want something or not, so it was a challenge bridging that gap. With all new businesses, you require a slice of luck. Ours came in Test Match Special. We were invited to talk about it and ironically the person who interviewed me on the day is still quite sceptical! It rained that day so there were a couple of hours to fill which allowed us to stay on. They opened up the phone lines and we talked about technology. That publicity made Channel 4 and Sky realise that this was the way cricket was going.
Why do you think people are sceptical about using technology in sport?
I’m not sure if there is necessarily scepticism, but if you put yourselves in the shoes of someone who is responsible for the rules of the game, they have the weight of history and responsibility. I think it is right that no major change to a major sport is done lightly. In football for instance, there are other technology providers who had done trials unsuccessfully and that only hurts the credibility of the overall process. I think people have a much lower tolerance for mistakes in technology than they do in human error. To get people comfortable with technology they need to be convinced of its reliability. Particularly with older people who are less familiar with technology, that can sometimes take some time. In football people argued that Goal Line Technology (GLT) was the start of a slippery slope and it would be used for other things that could slow the game down.
Hawk-Eye was implemented for this year’s Premier League season. How has the feedback been from clubs and officials?
The officials are very happy. They have come to learn the system and part of their pre-match checks is to test the system before every match. I think clubs have been happy too. We have built a close working relationship with them by getting our kit in and working with them for cabling and camera positions so hopefully we have not caused too much interference. I do not want to be complacent, as credibility takes a long time to build up and an awfully short time to lose!