Two months after Mark Cuban’s $5 million-donation toward the Cuban Center was announced, IU Athletics introduced its first virtual reality prototype Wednesday.
“It’s exceeded my wildest expectations,” IU Athletics Director Fred Glass said. “In this short amount of time, we’ve gotten a lot done and have exposure to a variety of pieces of technology.”
The focal point of the demonstration was the prototype of virtual reality, where the viewer uses a headset and looks into a projector strapped to the front.
As the user turns his head, he sees a replay of previously recorded action in a natural way, as if he were physically there.
“Virtual reality is currently being developed for fan experience and training purposes,” said Brian Hulley, IU Athletics Network and Security administrator and an expert technician active in the prototype’s production. “Broadcasting is definitely in the future for virtual reality, too.”
Besides Stanford, IU is the only school in the nation pursuing the new technology and remains the only school to use it in its athletics department.
IU has already introduced the virtual reality technology to women’s soccer and football. The hope is to add most of IU’s 24 sports.
The advantage of using virtual reality in practice is to record plays in the perspective of individual positions, using a spherical device consisting of ten cameras. Athletes and coaches can later review those plays.
“What we’re trying to do is put it by the quarterback, or here by the defensive end for zone reads,” IU football coach Kevin Wilson said, standing up for demonstration. “We could put it here by the tailback to pick up blitzes, and we can freeze it and talk about what’s going on.”
Challenges come with virtual reality though, as it takes nearly eight hours to construct one replay, an issue Wilson hopes to overcome with the football team by building a library of plays and using them in the future.
Peripheral vision is also difficult to simulate with the headset.
“You really just get a 10-and-two view,” Wilson said. “They have to turn their heads to see, and, when the play is moving, it can be a lot going on.”
Full-time athletic department technicians are continuing to mold virtual reality into what Glass hopes it can be.
“One of the biggest advantages for us is that these folks are on the ground, interacting with coaches,” Glass said about the in-house technicians. “They’re not in-and-out like other places. We’re the only college that’s in-house like this, and that’s a really big distinction.”
The second piece of technology discussed was FreeD Technology, where cameras are placed around a stadium or arena to capture a 360-degree view of action.
The primary purpose of this technology is for broadcast, as fans can view plays from several different angles.
“Our experts from Tel Aviv have flown in and are helping us place cameras around Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall,” Glass said. “We believe we are on track to have that finished by this upcoming basketball season.”
Installing cameras in Memorial Stadium has proven to be more difficult, as all cameras need to be separated equally, but the gap in the southern end zone inhibits the process.
“We always knew that football would be a little more dicey,” Glass said. “I’m optimistic, though, that we should have that ready to go for at least some of the games.”
Glass also expressed optimism in negotiations with Mark Cuban.
“I will get cyber dusts from him at three o’clock in the morning about ideas,” Glass said. “With him as our secret weapon, we will always have a competitive advantage and be ahead of the pack.”