I’ve said elsewhere that as trained as umpires, service judges, and line judges are, they’re only human. Being human, they do make mistakes. When this happens, the game can spiral into confusion and dispute. Luckily, technology is here to save the day. In badminton, we’ve got Hawk-Eye for when the tough calls get even tougher to call!
Hawk-Eye technology works by cross-matching the images captured by different cameras located in various areas. These cameras give the system views of the court from different vantage points using triangulation. With the same footage from different vantage points, the system can provide footage for instant replay. The different camera angles allow officials to get a comprehensive view of everything from where the shuttlecock lands to whether or not it touched the net.
That’s a mouthful for something so technical and pivotal to badminton. But what is it? Let’s get this question out of the way first before we get a peek at how Hawk-Eye tech saves the game!
What is Hawk-Eye Technology?
Hawk-Eye technology was added to the badminton officiating toolkit in 2014. However, it has been around since 2001, with cricket being the first sport to benefit from the innovation.
Hawk-Eye technology is a Sony-owned computer vision system that tracks the trajectory of a projectile and records its positions at various points. It achieves this with the use of several pieces of footage that collectively offer a three-dimensional profile of the projectile. Using image triangulation, Hawk-Eye reveals a projectile’s initial position, flight or trajectory, and its final position. More importantly, it shows these from a variety of angles. These capabilities allow officials like badminton referees to get a second look at disputed calls and make more accurate ones based on the footage.
Several cameras are situated at various points of a court to provide the video input for Hawk-Eye. Depending on the sport, there can be anywhere from six cameras.
The 3D representation of a projectile’s trajectory is as detailed as it gets. As a bonus, the 3D image of the projectile’s flight path and landing is replayable due to the technology’s Multi-Angle Replay System.
Hawk-Eye’s capabilities have allowed the technical officials of many sports to make decisive calls — calls that may not have been made before the technology’s introduction in 2001. With the accuracy of this technology, officials have adopted it as part of their fixtures. Sports in which Hawk-Eye technology has been in use include soccer, tennis, cricket, and Australian football, to name a few.
When is Hawk-Eye Used in Badminton?
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has long used Instant Review Systems (IRS) when there’s confusion on the court. The BWF has experimented with other IRS technologies in the past. Hawk-Eye technology was introduced fairly recently. More specifically, the Hawk-Eye system and high-precision cameras appeared on badminton courts as recently as 2014. Since its introduction into badminton, it has been used in several instances.
Hawk-Eye is used in badminton to help officials determine whether a shuttlecock is in or out. This is especially helpful when line judges tasked with making calls are suddenly unsighted. Because of its precision, Hawk-Eye has been in use for assisting with critical line calls, adding more credibility to the decisions made by technical officials like the umpire and referee.
Major BWF tournaments have been using Hawk-Eye mainly for line calls. Nevertheless, the precision of Hawk-Eye and its capability of providing down-to-the-second footage can have other use cases besides shuttlecock tracking.
For example, Hawk-Eye may be used for confirming a bad service. How? Remember that according to 9.1.5 of the BWF’s service rules, a correct service is one where the racket strikes the base of the shuttlecock — not the feathered area. When the feathered area is the first part of the shuttlecock to make contact, it is a service fault.
It’s not always possible for a service judge to see which part of the shuttlecock was hit first during service. Hence, Hawk-Eye technology can help confirm this.
In short, for any situation in badminton that makes giving calls tough, there’s always Hawk-Eye — and the referee’s judgment, of course.
Is Hawk-Eye Accurate?
The BWF has used various systems and technologies for its IRS. Hawk-Eye is the current IRS that the BWF has chosen for its tournaments, especially at the highest level. This is due to the system’s precision and accuracy.
Hawk-Eye is accurate. The system’s graphics implementation capability receives data from at least six high-speed cameras located at strategic points. These cameras receive different pieces of footage that make their way to a computer system that calculates trajectory and positions. The calculations lead to a graphical representation that determines the exact position of a shuttlecock with only a 3.6 mm margin of error.
There have, however, been a handful of instances in badminton that have dented the reputation of Hawk-Eye technology. The most recent and controversial instance of Hawk-Eye’s fallibility was during the Daihatsu Indonesia Masters 2021. The incident involved the men’s doubles semi-final match between Indonesia and Malaysia.
The match was between the Indonesian pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, and Malaysia’s Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi. The Malaysian team committed a service fault, initially called by the service judge and confirmed by everyone on the court. However, the Malaysian team challenged the call, prompting an instant review from Hawk-Eye.
Upon review, Hawk-Eye incorrectly pinpointed the shuttlecock to be on the line following service. This meant that the Malaysian team earned a set point, much to the chagrin of the Indonesian team and everyone watching.
Sure, this was an error, but let’s be honest. Locating the exact landing point of a shuttlecock under such a small margin is no small feat for any instant review technology. Even more impressive is the fact that Hawk-Eye delivers this degree of precision with regularity — and in different sports besides badminton!
How Can Hawk-Eye Improve Badminton
Badminton improves with every piece of technology brought in. This is certainly true of Hawk-Eye when the BWF chose it for its instant review system.
Hawk-Eye can improve badminton by helping officials confirm their line calls. By cross-referencing what on-court officials have seen against the footage data presented by Hawk-Eye, officials add a layer of accuracy to their line calls. This, in turn, adds credibility to officials and their decisions that can determine a game’s outcome. With the footage ready and accessible, lets can also be shorter following a challenge to a call.
Before the introduction of Hawk-Eye or other technology for review systems, BWF officials had to rely on their experience and training. Without an Instant Replay System in place, these officials had nothing to defer to when calls were challenged.
With Hawk-Eye, officials have something to refer to if confusion or controversy arises on the court. It allows officials to confirm or refute their calls, and make better ones that lead to a less controversial call or decision — in most cases, at least.
Perhaps one of the most salient ways Hawk-Eye improves badminton is how it allows the action to continue right away. It can take a while for officials to talk amongst themselves about whether or not a shuttlecock was in or out. This can cause lets to take longer than they’re supposed to. With Hawk-Eye, the tournament referee can inspect the footage and make a decision. This allows the game to continue right away.
Key Takeaway: Hawk-Eye Technology is Only Part of the Badminton Officiating Toolbox
Technology improves sports like badminton. Hawk-Eye — though imperfect — has contributed to the veracity of calls made by many technical officials at the highest levels of the game. There’s no doubt that Hawk-Eye brings an added layer of accuracy and precision to the table. Nonetheless, it’s important to see it for what it is — technology created as a tool and not a crutch.
Badminton officials still need to have their wits about them when officiating high-stakes games. Hawk-Eye is plan B whenever there’s controversy on the court.
Also, Hawk-Eye technology has proven itself to be mostly accurate. Even with its shortcomings, its accuracy is still high enough for it to be the Instant Review provider of the BWF.
With the regularity with which Hawk-Eye technology accurately pinpoints shuttlecock positions, it might be better to optimize rather than demonize.
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