From Missiles To The Pitch: The Story Behind World Cup Tech Brian Kopp of STATS LLC explains how technology first developed by the Israeli military is now being used in athletics.
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From Missiles To The Pitch: The Story Behind World Cup Tech

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From Missiles To The Pitch: The Story Behind World Cup Tech

From Missiles To The Pitch: The Story Behind World Cup Tech

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At the World Cup in Brazil a stream of real-time data has been pouring off the field. We can find out exactly how many miles each player has run and how fast - also, detailed tracking of ball possession and location. We wondered, how is all that data being collected? And Brian Kopp is the guy who can answer that question. He's senior vice president with the company STATS. It owns the SportVU technology behind those numbers. Brian, welcome to the program.

BRIAN KOPP: Hi Melissa, thanks for having me.

BLOCK: So how does this work? How do you know, for example, that midfielder Michael Bradley on the U.S. team ran precisely 23.6 miles in the three games of the group stage?

KOPP: Sure, now, SportVU is a camera-based tracking system where we have a group of computer vision cameras, and basically what the cameras do is they're collecting the location of the players and the ball. The players aren't wearing anything. There's nothing on the field. It's purely a three-camera system that's installed somewhere in the arena, and its doing all the work and the players probably don't even know it's there.

BLOCK: And somehow, I'm still not quite grasping this. Somehow those cameras are able to distinguish all these players who are moving around and shifting positions all the time.

KOPP: It's pretty complicated stuff created by some data algorithm engineers. They were originally based in Israel. They had worked on similar optical tracking projects for the military - essentially, missile tracking. And they had an interest in sports so they developed this system to track soccer - football players, rather than tracking missiles for the military.

BLOCK: OK, well, so far in World Cup 2014, which player has run the longest distance through the round of 16?

KOPP: So two of the top three are Americans. So Michael Bradley from the US team has covered 34 miles in those four games, and in yesterday's match against Belgium he covered 10.4 miles.

BLOCK: In just one match?

KOPP: In just one match. And we can break down that distance to know - was he running, jogging, sprinting? He actually had 65 sprints throughout the course of the game as well. So we can take this data and break it down to a very granular level.

BLOCK: So you said two of the top three were U.S. players.

KOPP: Yeah, Jermaine Jones was number three. He covered 29.6 miles in the four matches thus far.

BLOCK: And who's third?

KOPP: Marcelo Diaz from Chile.

BLOCK: And in terms of speed, who's been the fastest runner at the World Cup?

KOPP: So the fastest runner has been Junior Diaz from Costa Rica. He reached a max speed of 21 miles per hour.

BLOCK: No kidding.

KOPP: For the U.S., Fabian Johnson was the fastest at 20.5.

BLOCK: I might have thought it was DeAndre Yedlin on the U.S. team. Is he right up there?

KOPP: Yeah, and sometimes when you look at the data it's hard to see - you know, kind of match up with what your eyes are. One example that's kind of surprising is you look at someone like Lionel Messi - obviously a great player, and they had a match yesterday that also went overtime. He played just about the same amount of minutes as Michael Bradley and he ran 6.6 miles. So in the same amount of time, Michael Bradley ran almost four miles more than Lionel Messi. Now, Messi's job is to stay up front and not to run all the way back in defense like Michael Bradley's, but it's amazing to see the pretty significant difference between certain players.

BLOCK: Do you sometimes look at these numbers that are coming from the field and get surprised by what you're seeing?

KOPP: Yeah. Seeing 10 miles in a soccer match is pretty shocking - to see how much ground some can cover or to see, from an individual player, how much they were spending in certain zones. I think that there's a lot of interesting insights to be gained off of whether or not that's - was part of the strategy - whether or not someone was exerting too much energy. As we all know, a lot of this game comes down to not making mistakes or having enough to take that extra step or two right at the end. And a lot of these World Cup matches have come down to the wire, and it's been pretty interesting to see whether players can step up or not, and a lot of that has to do with how much they're exerting throughout the match up to that point.

BLOCK: That's Brian Kopp with the company STATS which owns the SportVU technology being used at the World Cup in Brazil. Mr. Kopp, thanks so much.

KOPP: Thank you, Melissa.


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