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Volume 20 No. 42
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MLBAM touts its new work with Apple in augmented reality

MLB Advanced Media believes its work in augmented reality with Apple could open a new level of fan engagement and understanding of baseball’s statistical nuances, and perhaps make going to a live game never quite the same again.

Baseball’s digital arm was part of Apple’s special event this month unveiling the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X. That event outlined work developers such as MLBAM are doing with ARKit, a new Apple developer capability within the iOS 11 platform enabling augmented reality experiences on the iPhone and iPad.

Though still very much in prototype mode, MLBAM is developing an advance to its At Bat mobile application in which pointing the iPhone or iPad at a particular player would automatically generate statistics and biographical information.

The technology will provide fans at the ballpark with augmented reality experiences on the iPad and iPhone.
But going beyond other notable augmented reality efforts such as the “Pokémon Go” game, MLBAM is also looking to connect the augmented reality to its existing Statcast data platform. That linking would allow potential scenarios such as pointing the phone at a runner on base and learning his probability of successfully stealing the next base, or an outfielder’s defensive range based on where he is positioned.

“When you’re at the game, you can hold up your iPhone and see real-time information and stats on top of the game you’re watching,” said Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

Other existing Statcast data such as exit velocities on hits and catch probabilities for outfielders — relatively new measures quickly gaining in stature and acceptance on their own — are also being incorporated into the augmented reality offering.

“We see this as a big opportunity to take Statcast and bring it into the real world and an enhanced ballpark setting,” said Chad Evans, MLBAM senior vice president of mobile product development and lead for MLBAM’s augmented reality work. “We don’t think anybody else has married augmented reality and live data in this way before.”

The economic model for baseball’s augmented reality offering has not been finalized.

The work is actually the merging of several different technologies. The augmented reality component itself uses something Apple calls “world tracking” in which the iPhone or iPad camera, motion sensors and iOS 11 software map out a three-dimensional view of where a user is. That is coupled with the Statcast platform that itself relies on a combination of radar and optical tracking equipment already installed at each MLB ballpark.

Making this work for the fan will also rely on ballpark wireless networks, which have been a keen focus of MLBAM in recent years and upgraded throughout the league. But the amount of wireless data required to make the augmented reality offering work at scale is less than what is needed for some existing content such as mobile video highlights.

MLBAM’s augmented reality offering is being developed with a goal of a public rollout for the 2018 season. MLBAM has tested the product at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Development work will continue during the Arizona Fall League, where Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., is set up for Statcast.

“We still have a lot of work do, and have to prove out the various use cases, but we’re incredibly excited about the potential this has,” Evans said.