Photos: Tracking the servers at Wimbledon

Photos: Tracking the servers at Wimbledon

Summary: Grab yourself a Pimms and join us on a tour of IBM's facilities at Wimbledon, where the company aims to keep the scores and more

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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  • Every summer, one small part of South West London is stirred from its sunny slumber by the sound of racquet on ball, leavened with the straining grunts of young bodies pushed to their limit. Yes, it's Wimbledon again.

    In the past, the big technological breakthrough in tennis was when racquets stopped being made from animal parts in favour of metals and plastics. Today, Wimbledon is one of the highest of high-tech zones.

    Instant data communications are the norm, with wireless communications everywhere, lasers deciding if a ball landed in or out, and other devices deciding if a ball has struck the tennis net or merely wafted past.

    And behind the scenes, technology has made further inroads. But, as ZDNet UK discovered, some parts remain firmly rooted in another time....

  • Like any high-tech centre these days, IBM's centre of control at Wimbledon is not designed to appeal to the eye. Screens are crammed everywhere and there is a temporary look about it all. This is not surprising, since IBM has the contract to cover many tennis events, so its tennis team is nomadic. They arrive on-site with just one week to set up their equipment, spend two weeks working and then have a week to tear everything down and move on.

    Our picture shows the main office for data entry, which is just one of three IBM offices on the site. The others handle output for television and other outlets, the supply of statistical information, and the maintenance of the IBM Wimbledon Web site.

    They are housed in a building situated to one side of Centre Court at Wimbledon. The building also acts as the press office and supports some parts of the systems not handled by IBM, including the "let" system and Cyclops, the system that decided if a serve landed in or out.

  • The basic data-input device is as simple as they come, and is attached to a laptop computer. The data is entered with each swing of the racquet and then passed to the central systems.

    Most of the communications are carried over cables with some wireless backup. It seems astonishing in these "wireless-everywhere" days but, as IBM points out, there are good reasons for this.

    Firstly, Wimbledon is a very compact site with around 30 courts sitting one next to the other. This means there are a lot of people in a small area, and a lot of mobile devices.

    Add to that the fact that Wimbledon is built on quite a steep hill, as anyone who has seen "Henman Hill" on television can confirm, and you could have a mobile communications nightmare.

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Topic: Emerging Tech

About

Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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