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Fan Experience

Marvel Stadium unites with Telstra, AFL to trial new tech for visually impaired fans

Images: Telstra

Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium has teamed up with commercial partner Telstra and the Australian Football League to trial new technology which aims to enhance the game-day experience for AFL fans who are visually impaired.

Over 400,000 people in Australia are either blind or have low vision, and a third of Australians are said to support an AFL club. Telstra has developed the 5G Touch and Track prototype to create a more immersive, interactive, and enjoyable experience for fans with visual impairments.

An Australian first, the 5G Touch and Track prototype was developed working in partnership with Field of Vision, a tech start-up dedicated to transforming the way in which people who are blind or visually impaired enjoy sports.

The 5G-enabled tablet device translates live sports into a haptic experience, allowing fans who are visually impaired to track the on-field action with just their fingertips. Using a magnet that moves inside the body of the device, as the ball is kicked and handballed around the pitch, a steel ring on the surface moves precisely to where it’s located.

With 5G’s near real-time responsiveness, the movement of the ball through the device will now match the roar of the crowd in the background. The physical tablet device is 3D printed with the layout of the field debossed into it – the opposite of embossing, which creates the raised bumps of the Braille alphabet.

Telstra said the combination of a debossed playing field and tactile steel ring helps a vision impaired person ‘see’ the action on-field through their sense of touch. As the ball is run and passed around the field, the ring tracks its every motion. As it’s kicked, the fast movement of the ring is designed to match the intensity of noise from the field and the fans – especially if that kick turns into a goal.

Telstra sports technology lead, Chris Harrop, said: “The number of people in Australia living with blindness or low vision is enough to fill Marvel Stadium more than six times.

“We want vision impaired fans to have access to the technology they need to bring a live AFL match to life, and we’re excited for the opportunities this project may bring. It’s all about the fans and we believe that 5G Touch and Track has real potential to revolutionise the live sports experience at Marvel and beyond.

“Telstra and the AFL have been in business together for over 20 years and Telstra is now the technology and innovation partner for Marvel Stadium. We are currently piloting this technology at the stadium, and our ambition is to eventually offer the 5G Touch and Track to visually impaired fans at stadiums across the country.”

In December 2020, the AFL announced that Marvel Stadium would become one of the world’s most technologically connected and innovative sports and entertainment venues, under a new deal with telecommunications company Telstra.

The announcement came as the Aussie rules league unveiled new agreements with Telstra and Foxtel under which both extended their broadcast rights by two years across the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Under the extended agreement, AFL-owned Marvel Stadium has become a test bed for Telstra 5G innovation. Telstra became Marvel Stadium’s official technology and innovation partner over a four-year term, aiming to ensuring the revamped facility offers supporters the best digital experience of any stadium or entertainment venue in the country.

Currently in the prototype stage, Telstra and Field of Vision will continue to develop the 5G Touch and Track device with the ambition of producing a more refined product in the coming years. Working closely with supporters such as Vision Australia, AFL and AFL Blind, the user experience will be at the forefront of the prototyping process.

AFL executive general manager of customer and commercial, Kylie Rogers, said: “We’re so pleased to work with partners such as Telstra who are finding more and more ways to help our beloved AFL fans enjoy football. The 5G Touch and Track is so important in helping keep our game accessible and inclusive for all.”