Drones, machine learning, and e-sports - introducing new sports, and making us better at existing ones

By Marita Cheng

Whether in enhancing our capabilities in current physical sports, or creating new genres and sport games through the electronics world, technology will see us improve our sporting performance - faster, better, and more fun.

In March this year, 15-year old Luke Bannister won $250,000 in the World Drone Prix championship in Dubai, using first-person view cameras to navigate a drone that sped through an elaborate obstacle course. Already, NFL team owners are investing in this new sport. Technology allows us to create new ways to thrill and connect us.

Drone photography /

In the virtual world, e-sports is already big business. In countries like South Korea, millions of people tune in to watch matches on tv, and fans 40,000 strong pack stadiums to watch world championships. With the advent of exciting new gaming consoles in VR and AR, more people than ever can get immersed in e-sports, using their own VR headsets to enjoy simulations of championship games, and to experience game playbacks of the best moves. VR will also give us new way to interact with football and basketball. Rather than looking at the sport as a spectator, VR cameras in the front row of of a stadium will let millions of fans around the world experience a game from the best seat in the house, and give them freedom to look any way they choose. For example, my company 2Mar Robotics, is working on VR technology so that people from around the world can put on a VR headset and be immersed in their new environments via a VR telepresence robot.

betto rodrigues /

In existing sports, coaches may send a drone up in the air during practise to view plays from above and analyse techniques from another perspective. So rather than drawing figures on a whiteboard in the locker room during the break, players may see themselves on video right after a play, and can see for themselves how they should position their bodies for a successful play. This is possible now due to the easy and cheap accessibility of drone technology in recent years. A few hundred dollars of investment into a drone could make a huge difference in a team’s effectiveness.

Technology is a time saver. Using machine learning, you can teach computers to process data and learn faster than you can by feeding an algorithm data, giving it an objective, and letting it learn. For example, you could say, learn what a cat looks like, here are 10,000 images of cats. The computer then begins to learn the features that are common to all cats. So in the future when you show it a picture of a cat, it may recognise that.

You can show a machine all the football games ever played and give the machine a goal of working out the optimal game plays, with players in various positions. It will end up working out new play combinations. Rather than players needing to use time and energy to work out these plays, they can learn from the machines.

For individual sports, the computers may analyse every single champion swimmer or tennis player it can get footage of, and figure out the optimal swimming or tennis technique for each body type - long legs, short arms, heavy torso, etc. So that every swimmer and tennis player can make the best use of their bodies.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Samsung or Questacon.

Marita Cheng was the 2012 Young Australian of the Year and is a technology entrepreneur and women in technology advocate. Marita Cheng is the founder and CEO of 2Mar Robotics, which makes a telepresence robot, Teleport, for kids with cancer in hospital to attend school, people with a disability to attend work and to monitor and socialise with elderly people. As well as telepresence robots, 2Mar does research and development in robotic arms, virtual reality and autonomous mapping and navigation.

Interview with Charlotte Caslick
The Future of Fashion by Marita Cheng
3D Printed Croquembouche