Digital transformation enables Indy 500 to fire on all new cylinders

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing will be held without fans in attendance this year. New technology upgrades are set to enhance the fan experience from afar.

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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of professional sports leagues around the world were forced to postpone gameplay. In recent weeks, some leagues have resumed gameplay without fans in attendance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To recreate the traditional sporting experience for players and fans, leagues have incorporated a slew of cutting-edge technologies. On Sunday, the 104th annual Indianapolis 500 will also be held without fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will feature a host of digital transformation staples to increase safety at the track and enhance fan engagement.

"INDYCAR and IMS have always been built on technology and innovation. We work closely with NTT to ensure we're on top of the changing technology environment and have identified the fan experience as our top priority," said Penske Corporation Chairman Roger Penske. "While the COVID-19 pandemic will not allow us to welcome guests on-site at the Racing Capital of the World, it has further emphasized our investment in digital engagement to enhance the experience for fans viewing from around the globe."

Digital transformation and fan engagement

These upgrades use NTT's Accelerate Smart initiative, a platform that utilizes a series of sensors and data centers to collect data at the track. This platform incorporates historical data such as meteorological information, traffic, and social media information, and uses cognitive analytics and machine learning to identify patterns and abnormalities.

This weekend's race will feature the debut of an IMS Media Wall, a 100-foot wide high-resolution LED display to illustrate a vast spectrum of race data and predictions. The new fixture will display key analytics including more than 140 data points pertaining to each car in the race. Machine learning is used to predict a vehicle's next move, and AI will "highlight head-to-head matchups in real time with pit predictions, fastest laps and more."

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The system will also look at social media engagement during the race and provide a "heat map" illustrating US regional fan engagement. While in-person spectators may not be able to reap the benefits of the new IMS Media Wall this time around, fans can still access this "data experience" via the INDYCAR mobile app.

Using AI to reduce bottlenecks

Until recently, this weekend's race was scheduled to take place with fans in attendance. To assist with in-person operations, other monitoring solutions were in the works to help reduce common congestion problems on race day. For example, during peak entry and exit times, bottlenecks develop around gates located throughout the track.

Originally, NTT had planned to implement a system to reduce crowding at these common congestion points. This solution looks at ticketing system data streams as well as AI-enabled optical sensors to monitor crowds gathering both inside and outside of the gates, according to Bennett Indart, VP of NTT SMART World Solutions at NTT DATA Services. This system could next help with intelligent mapping at the race track, Indart said.

COVID-19 Speedway App

To help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in the workplace, some companies have incorporated various monitoring systems and apps. Similarly, NTT has also developed a COVID-19 health monitoring app for INDYCAR to ensure the safety of race officials, speedway staffers, and team members.

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The app essentially enables a comprehensive COVID-19 health screening. If an employee is in compliance with the necessary guidelines in place, they receive a digital key via their smartphone. When used alongside their track credentials, this digital key grants employees access to facilities, Indart said.

"The future of sports is reliant on providing digital-first content, better access to technology, and leveraging venues like IMS to engage spectators, athletes, and organizations in new ways," said Marv Mouchawar, board director and senior vice president of NTT, Inc., in a press release. "We are honored to partner with INDYCAR and the broader Penske Corporation. NTT is built to become a valued and trusted partner to all our clients by using technology to deliver innovative breakthroughs to help solve social challenges for people, businesses and cities."

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