Intel installed 38 5K cameras high above the field at NRG Stadium in Houston, bolted onto the building’s metal structure. Pointed downwards, these cameras operate more like sensors, feeding visual data back to a rack of servers elsewhere inside the stadium. These servers can digitally reconstruct the 3D world of the game, representing real objects using 3D pixels, known as voxels. To reduce the data processing load—around one terabyte for a 15 to 30 second clip—during a game many of the features inside the stadium, including the field itself, are pre-rendered by the servers. Only moving objects like the players need to be added in real time.
The Patriots, who faced the Atlanta Falcons, are one of six teams now using a VR training system designed by Palo Alto startup StriVR. Others include the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. The system, inspired by work done at Stanford’s VR lab, uses 360-degree video to put players—primarily quarterbacks—through their paces, with less physical risk and wear-and-tear than on-field practice, and more interactivity than just watching game video.
Research shows that seeing real humans in action helps the brain refine its timing and stay focused. And because football is based on coordinated plays with fixed timing (at least in theory), rote repetition helps program players’ muscle memory.
Intel’s 360 video system allows a ‘virtual’ camera to recreate a first-person perspective by compiling film shot from a variety of outside angles. If teams could get access to the full feed of game cameras, they could give QBs virtual run-throughs of past real games, even if there was nobody on the field wearing a 360 camera.