"We wish we could send our excited cheering to the athletes even if we cannot make it to the venue."
COVID-19 has caused the world to become a place where travel and gathering together are not allowed. Although it has become difficult to support athletes in person at the venue, NTT's super low-latency communication technology successfully connects the venues with audience areas interactively, creating a sense of oneness for viewers as if they are in the same place as the athletes.
By eliminating as much as possible the time lag between the video and sound, and viewers' transmitted cheering and reactions, viewers can experience immersion and oneness as if they are cheering for athletes from the stands.
The most important thing about remote support is to eliminate minute latencies. Latencies in communication create a communication gap of a few deci-seconds between the event venue and the remote viewing venue. Unless this gap is resolved, supporters' cheering will be delivered to the event venue at mismatched timings. Such a situation could even distract the athletes. Here, we will introduce the state of the art technology developed by NTT to resolve such latency.
To eliminate the two types of latency associated with high-volume data transmission
Humans recognize delays in ordinary communication even if such delays last only a few deci-seconds. There are two types of delays, namely transmission latency and compression latency, and resolving these has always been an issue in high-volume, high-speed communication.
To address this issue, NTT has deployed a platform technology for the future. For instance, to overcome the transmission latency problem, NTT used the platform technology's disaggregation configuration technology to split the transmission features, thus achieving highly efficient data processing. To solve the compression latency problem, NTT used super low-latency media processing technology, which can sequentially process data itself on video signal levels. The remote viewing that was achieved as a result, which feels no different from watching the games at the event venue, may set a new standard for the future of watching sports.
Dramatic Remote Support Made Possible with Super Low-Latency Technology and Gigantic LED Displays
The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is set to host a remote support project for the marathon, which is set to take place in Sapporo on August 7 and 8. The aforementioned super low-latency communication technology will connect Tokyo with Sapporo via broadband lines, thus minimizing latency. Huge 50-m-wide LED displays will be installed in Sapporo, the marathon's venue, and Tokyo for remote venue. These displays will show in real time life-size runners on the course and the audience, who will appear as if they are gathering along the route. This will showcase a new style of watching sports, synchronizing the dynamism of the runners with support from the audience.
Football 5-a-side (Blind football, B1 category)
Mr. Tanaka developed a visual impairment when he was three years old. As a student, he had poor vision, which worsened in 2002. He started to play soccer in 2006 and has represented the Japan team since the 2009 Asian Championships.
In football 5-a-side, heated battles unfold among visually impaired players, playing just by sound and their team members' voices. We asked Akihito Tanaka, one of the members of the Japan team, what he finds appealing about this sport played by sound, and about remote support with super low-latency communication technology, which realizes reactions that are no different from cheering in person from the stands.
I Became a Members of the Japan Team in a Sport I Started for My Health
-Why did you start playing football 5-a-side?
Tanaka I had poor vision to start with, but I have always loved watching soccer. I played it for fun and for my PE classes, and I also became enamored with soccer games. Later, when I started working, my vision deteriorated further. My weight began to increase to a level I had never experienced before. I thought that I had to play some kind of sport for my own health and that if I had to do it anyway, I would like to play soccer. That's how it started.
-You started playing for your health, but you reached the level of becoming a Paralympic athlete.
Tanaka At first, I thought that soccer for people with disabilities would be played at a much slower pace (laughter). When I actually played, I found it to be very speedy and aggressive. There were only five of us, but I experienced it as if playing a game with eleven to the limit, which felt great to me. I sort of went into professional player mode when I saw a friend of mine, Tomonari Kuroda, who has also been a teammate and subsequently a member of the Japan team, lose in the qualifying round in 2007 for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. When I saw how frustrated he was about that loss, it made me realize that this was a sport that could make someone so passionate. That inspired me to work hard to the best of my abilities.
-In the June 2021 international championships, the Japan team won second place. You also received a personal award!
Tanaka First, I am grateful that the organizers held the event despite the current circumstances. In the finals, we lost to the world's top-ranked Argentina, but it was nice to see them again on the pitch for the first time in a long while. As the Japan team, winning second place in the championships, which are kind of a testing ground for the actual Paralympic Games, means something, but to tell you the truth, we would rather have won.
-The event went ahead with no audience. The games were live-streamed and attracted so much attention that they trended on social media.
Tanaka When the games were over, I returned to my room and realized that it had gotten buzz on social media and that many people were watching us. There was no way to tell that on the pitch, though. …The presence of the audience, and the cheering, makes a big difference to athletes.
-Because you play football 5-a-side by your teammates' voices and the sound of the ball, the audience is supposed to watch quietly. So, would you still feel more support to have the audience in the stands?
Tanaka The "Nippon!" call and the audience calling out your name during the time-outs and when the game is paused gives you such great vibes. During the game, everyone is watching quietly, but when the game gets aggressive or when there are great plays, they let out tiny shouts like "Oh!" and "Wow!" When I catch these real reactions, I feel rewarded. I feel the presence of the audience. They make me happy as an athlete.
Teammates' Voices Determine the Game's Direction, While the Audiences' Voices Support the Athletes
-Your strength is in one-on-one defense. You stop the opponents' attacks by relying on your teammates' voices and sound. How do you actually do this during the game?
Tanaka We have come to recognize our teammates' different voices through training and playing games together. The important thing about defense is to not focus too much on a specific sound or voice. If you focus only on the sound of the ball and try to go for it, you could unwittingly open up a path for the opponent to shoot. So I focus on all kinds of voices and sounds, including the voices and breathing of the players in the field, their footsteps, the sound of them kicking the ball, and the detailed instructions of the seeing goalkeeper. I may have an advantage because I have an image of appropriate defense positions since I have watched a lot of soccer.
-Today, even the spontaneous tiny cheers you mentioned can be captured by remote support. These can be delivered to you with nearly no time lag.
Tanaka If there is any time lag between the actual play and the cheering from all the people in a remote location, it would feel odd and could impact our performance. If a new technology can address this gap, it would be a great encouragement for players, just like support in person from the stands. We cannot see the moment the ball hits the net; we know a goal has been scored by hearing the loud cheering. Scoring is the most exciting moment in soccer. I want to share with everyone the great sensation and sense of oneness in that moment.
-Finally, please tell us about the prospects for football 5-a-side as a sport as well as your personal goal.
Tanaka Until about 10 years ago, individual skills like dribbling and shooting techniques determined the game, but now organizational skills have become more important, and winning by individual skill is more difficult. Strategies have also become more sophisticated, so it will be even more exciting to watch the sport. In this sense, I need to be able to not just defend but also attack, so I have been practicing dribbling and shooting. I am already 43, but I think I am at my best right now because my experience, technique, and motivation are in good balance. Just to let you know, I haven't scored a goal yet as a member of the national team, but I have already announced to everyone that my first goal will be scored at the Paralympic Games (laugher), so I want to make that happen.
Sending something to a faraway place naturally takes time. However, NTT's super low-latency communication technology overcomes even such expectations.
At present, we cannot get close to others or have gatherings. However, even though people may be physically apart, this technology that enables us to share voices, sounds, and emotions without stress will, starting with the grand setting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, bring us an enriched future in many situations and ways close to us.