Sailing is a sport in which participants head toward markers set on the water's surface, racing against the clock. They must figure out the course in a limited time, understand the wind that drives their vessels, and meet the challenge with a strategy to sail around the markers as quickly as possible. The difficulty is that because the race takes place off the coast, it is difficult to watch it from land with the naked eye.
Is there a new sports spectator experience that can provide us a more exciting and immersive feeling while watching those competitions?
Watching sailing has traditionally been something to do from a seawall with binoculars. NTT's advanced communication technology offers a new way of watching sailing at sea right in front of your eyes, delivering never-before-experienced sensations and excitement.
Press Release : Technical cooperation with Kirari! Ultra-realistic Communication Technology for the "TOKYO 2020 5G PROJECT" to Recreate New Spectator Experiences – Live Transmission of 12K Ultra-wide Composite Images of an Entire Sailing Event to Remote Locations –
The Tokyo Organising Committee, in cooperation with Intel Corporation, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, and NTT DoCoMo, Inc., is implementing this project which provides a new sports spectator experiences within the venue utilizing 5G technology at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
NTT, which is engaging in research and development to realize the remote world, support Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with its communication services.
Sailing is a sport in which sailors let their vessels glide across the water's surface using wind to propel the sails, competing in terms of speed and technique. To enable viewers to feel the race's excitement at sea up close, NTT has achieved real-time synthesis of a super wide video with a horizontal resolution of 12K using a 5G network and super immersive communication technology Kirari!, projecting the image onto a gigantic screen 50 m wide set on the ocean's surface. Using the wide marine screen, NTT will turn sailing into a near-real experience that feels as if viewers are watching the race from a cruise ship anchored near the race area instead of having to watch from seawalls with binoculars like before.
Video of the sailing race will be broadcast not only in Enoshima Yacht Harbor, Kanagawa, the venue for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but also transmitted to the distant Tokyo Big Sight (the Main Press Centre) thus offering media staffs a chance to share a sense of immersion and unity in Enoshima. NTT's leading communication technologies offer an arena for viewers and sports fans to share in the excitement as a new way of enjoying watching sports.
As a sport that takes place at sea far away from land, sailing has always had the reputation that it is a sport whose dynamism is hard to convey to spectators. Despite this challenge, NTT combined its multiple advanced communication technologies in order to deliver the sensations and excitement of being at sea to as many people as possible. By connecting and synthesizing videos from multiple 4k cameras in real time, high-definition and wide-angle videos that could not be produced by a single camera are generated, and then separate video and sound data are synchronized and transmitted over a 5G network, thereby delivering a fully immersive, powerful video on the ocean itself, filling the audience's full field of vision.
Event: Windsurfing, class: iQ FOiL
Having started windsurfing in the first grade of elementary school, Ms. Niijima competed in multiple international championships from junior high school. In the Second Youth Olympic Games (2014/Nanjing), she won seventh place even though she was the youngest participant at age 14. From high school, she switched to the official Olympic category of class RS:X, winning sixth place at the 2017 Youth World Sailing Championship/Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship. She now competes as an adult.
Sailing is a sport in which athletes must read the tide and harness the constantly changing wind to reach the goal. NTT's ultra-realistic communication technology Kirari! transmits in real time the heat of the race to the audience watching from the stands. The offshore race will be displayed in real time on a gigantic wide marine monitor floating in Enoshima Yacht Harbor. We interviewed Rina Niijima, the young windsurfer on the Japanese national team, and asked her to share her take on the technology's future and potential.
*This interview was conducted in June 2021.
Nothing feels better than interpreting the wind correctly and winning
-I suppose that because of COVID-19, you have had fewer opportunities to compete over the last year and could not train as you wanted.
Niijima For me, my college shifted to online classes, so I had more time to train. You can only practice windsurfing when there is enough wind in the daytime, but because the college went online, I could make use of the time I would otherwise have been commuting to campus. I was also able to attend class remotely in Miyakojima, the windy place where we trained, so actually I could focus on windsurfing better than usual.
-You managed to balance your academic work and training.
Niijima Yes, but until last November, competitions were cancelled, so we had little opportunity to demonstrate the good results of our training. We could not train overseas, either, which was frustrating because even if I performed well in Japan, I had no way of comparing my results to my overseas rivals.
-Since you were born and grew up near the sea in Kamakura, I am sure you have always been familiar with marine sports. When did you actually start windsurfing?
Niijima I started riding a board when I was 4, but of course I have no recollection of that (laughs). I joined the junior club in the first grade of elementary school mostly to see my friends at sea-this was an extension of playing on the beach. Winning the national junior championships in second grade and then losing to a rival the following year prompted me to take on windsurfing more seriously.
-Your father runs a windsurfing store and he was a former professional windsurfer. Has he been a tough mentor since you were a child?
Niijima Not so much when I was small. However, he was tough on me when I was in junior high school. I wanted to study hard to enter high school, but my parents kept telling me to stop going to a cram school and to train instead (laughs). I was a huge rebel then, quitting windsurfing for six months and studying. But once I managed to pass the school entrance exam and entered high school, I switched my focus. Until that time, I had a feeling that my father was forcing me to train. I then switched from junior equipment to the RS:X board, which is an Olympic category, and started to focus on the sport by my own will, setting my eyes on the Tokyo 2020 Games.
-In sailing, you have to race to the goal while skillfully understanding where the wind and tide are going. What is the sport's appeal for you, and which points determine victory?
Niijima Put simply, the appeal is that it is not simple. You cannot win unless various elements fit together correctly. No matter how much you work on it, you keep facing new tasks. But that's the fun of it, the most enjoyable part for us athletes. The determining factor is your ability to interpret the wind. If you cannot do that correctly, you might take a detour to get to a point you must clear, which will of course consume your energy unnecessarily. That's why athletes pay attention not just to the waves around them but the mountains and clouds in order to accurately figure out how the following wind will come. There is so much to think about, which makes it a complex sport, but because of the hard work, it feels fantastic when you are able to guess right and win.
-What do you think is the most important factor to win in a windsurfing race?
Niijima Weight is one key concept. After the Tokyo 2020 Games, the official windsurfing equipment will switch from RS:X to iQFOiL, toward the next 2024 Paris Games. I have been training with the new equipment, but with iQFOiL, you are at an advantage if you are heavier. You can get speed more effortlessly than with the old board, with weaker wind, but to maintain that posture, you must be steadily grounded on the board. So, I have worked hard to put on extra weight and gained 8 kg over the past year. It is a little sad, even though it is for the race (laughs).
Everything from the dynamism of the race to individual windsurfers' strategies will be felt through the screen
-At the Tokyo 2020 Games, for the first time NTT's communication technology Kirari! will change the way people watch sailing. The heated race off the coast will be displayed on the gigantic screen right in front of the audience, making them feel as if they are watching the race at sea.
Niijima Until now, people have had to use binoculars to watch the race far from the shore, or check where the athletes were online, which uses the information from the GPS devices worn by the athletes. In windsurfing, you normally do not have any audience except in some major international championships. So, it is amazing that the audience will be able to enjoy the dramatic race right there in real time. If you watch the entire race on the wide-vision monitor, you will come to understand the unique way of appreciating windsurfing, like how different athletes deploy different strategies to determine their courses. In the future, if you could install such a screen off the coast and cheer on the athletes, the athletes will feel encouraged like never before, because the race at sea is a completely solitary battle.
-Lastly, please tell us your goals.
Niijima I am sure the audience will, even if they have never seen windsurfing before, immediately experience the intensity and speediness by which athletes nearly crash into each other. If you learn a little about the principle of the wind that propels the sail, I am sure you will enjoy watching sailing at greater depths and find it more riveting. My goal is to compete in the Paris 2024 Games in the iQFOiL class. I do not know what happens beyond that, but I want to stay active until the Los Angeles 2028 Games. My dream for the future is just to get married and be a mom (laughs). In the end, I would like to take up my dad's store and train children who are looking to windsurf to compete on the global stage.
With the new 5G-based way to enjoy watching sports even from afar with a sense of immersion and a feeling of being at the venue, this project is a big step forward toward realizing the remote world of the future envisioned by NTT.