UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
UBC Public Affairs
UBC Reports
UBC Reports Extras
Goal / Circulation / Deadlines
Letters to the Editor & Opinion Pieces / Feedback
UBC Reports Archives
Media Releases
Services for Media
Services for the Community
Services for UBC Faculty & Staff
Find UBC Experts
Search Site

UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 11 | Nov. 6, 2003

He Shoots! He Scores! Here’s How!

By Michelle Cook

In the fast-paced world of hockey, there isn’t a coach -- or fan -- alive who hasn’t at one time wished for more insight into why some plays unfold perfectly while others end in disaster.

Now, thanks to a UBC computer scientist who can’t even skate, coaches may soon have a sophisticated new tool to help them analyse and predict how players will perform during a game, or even choose their top draft picks.

Before Kenji Okuma, 25, came to Canada from Japan in July 2000, he’d never seen a hockey game or set foot on a rink. Three years later, he’s watched hundreds of hours of NHL action on videotape -- paying special attention to goal highlights -- in order to build an unusual database.

Okuma is part of a team of UBC researchers working to develop a computer system capable of plotting player movements in hockey games. Its members include computer vision specialists James Little, David Lowe and Robert Woodham, and data mining expert Raymond Ng -- all professors in the computer science department. Okuma completed his MSc in computer science earlier this year, and has been working as a research assistant in the department’s Lab for Computational Intelligence since then.

The research team’s goal is to create a large database of NHL players in motion that can be queried to extract the paths -- or motion trajectories -- of individual players. The patterns could then be analysed to determine how a player moves and how he would be likely to move in future plays. Similar systems already exist for baseball, soccer, football and tennis.

Woodham says that hockey was the sport of choice for the project, in part, because of the interest in it here in B.C. and also because he and fellow researcher Little are die-hard fans of the game.

Nonetheless, Okuma says he was drafted for his off-ice skills.
“Jim (Little) was my thesis advisor. I told him I knew nothing about hockey,” Okuma says. “I’d never played hockey but I was living in Canada and thought I should know what Canada’s favourite sport was like.”

Okuma quickly learned what avid fans already know: professional hockey is a fast sport, and keeping an eye on the puck can be hard work. When a game is broadcast, cameras tilt, zoom and pan and switch between different locations, but they only capture a side or end view of the rink. To accurately understand the way players move around the ice, the best viewpoint for a coach is looking down on the rink from above.

With little overhead game footage available to the researchers, Okuma created software that removes the camera motion, and isolates and tracks each player’s route. The software then transforms regular broadcast video footage into a digitized top-down view of the players’ movements that is useful for coaches and other analysts.

“The human eye can only track three people at a time so this data would give a coach a fuller picture of where and how most plays occurred in a game,” Okuma says.

He adds that the research team would like to get access to more game footage than is currently available on television broadcasts. An increased number of camera angles around hockey rinks would allow them to capture a greater range of movement on the ice, and help them to more accurately replicate human motion in digital form. The researchers would also like to get professional coaches interested in trying out the system.

Hockey coaches and sports analysts are the most obvious end-users of the research, which is being funded by the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (IRIS) as part of a larger nationwide project of intentional motion and data archiving, but the work being conducted has wider applications.

Sports broadcasters could use it to give TV viewers a more dynamic experience by providing new vantage points and analysis of game play. Off the rink, the system could aid the computer game and film industries to create more realistic animated characters, or be used in the development of smart robots capable of imitating human motion or anticipating people’s actions.

With his contribution to the project almost complete, Okuma will be heading back to Tokyo in December with plans to pursue a PhD. And, he says, after watching two full seasons of NHL action on tape, he’s had his fill of TSN broadcasts and Hockey Night in Canada and will be happy to get back to his sport of choice -- soccer.

Still, he thinks he might like to go down to GM Place just once before he leaves. Despite the hundreds of games he’s viewed, he’s never seen a game of hockey played live.

- - -  

Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

to top | UBC.ca » UBC Public Affairs

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
tel 604.822.3131 | fax 604.822.2684 | e-mail public.affairs@ubc.ca

© Copyright The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.