The electronic hockey puck

December 01, 2016 // By Bill Schweber
Bill Schweber points out that sports broadcasting is starting to push for extremes in demanding analog design.

Augmenting television pictures with overlays is used on (American) football broadcasts, showing the line of scrimmage and the first-down line. Although a relatively recent innovation, they have become indispensable. Similar real-time, dynamic overlays are now used in most sports and even specialized events such as the America's Cup race, where they mark the course and also show the trajectory of each vessel, which is very useful for such as "unmarked" field of action.

Sportvision Inc. , the company which developed the football system, began with a first project which was a market failure. That system made the fast-moving, hard-to-see hockey puck appear as a glowing red object on TV, along with a trailing line to show the path. Although fans hated it and it was soon dropped, it taught the company a lot and also got the attention of football league management, who asked if an overlay was possible for their sport. The success and fast adoption of this second attempt at smart overlays in real time is a case study in learning from your failures, the importance of persistence in pursuit of success, and leveraging failures for future success.

Now, Sportvision is returning to hockey with a sensored, IR-emitting puck which will help report factors such as acceleration, speed, and other factors to camera-based nodes. In addition to the pucks, the players are being outfitted with multiple IR emitters which will be used to determine their speed, motion, and time on the ice.

The IR-emitting NHL puck has the same size, weight, and resilience of a standard puck, but also incorporates electronics but with details unknown.

The system requires about ten video cameras paced around the rink. It's a complicated setup demanding lots of processing power, as it deals with a fast-moving sport having random player trajectories, player crashes, and line-of-sight blockages. Unfortunately, there's very little technical information available on the system details, but it is being field-tested now