Real-Time Data Tech Pulls Red Bull X-Fighters Fans into Freestyle Motocross

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

Wearable sensors and computer technologies reveal motion and distance measurements for the first time at a fan-frenzied freestyle motocross competition in Spain.

With the gravitas of matadors, freestyle motocross (FMX) riders push the limits of motorcycle and man in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, Spain’s biggest bullfighting arena.

Notorious for their passion, fans of Red Bull X-Fighters come to see daredevil athletes perform unimaginable tricks. This year, the event’s 15th, the stomping and cheering gets louder as new real-time data-tracking technology brings fans even closer to the action.

Red Bull X-Fighters 2016
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid.

“There are only a handful of people in the world who can do these tricks,” said Jimmy Hall, a research scientist with the New Devices Group at Intel. “This technology helps break it down, helps fans understand what it takes for these athletes to pull off these stunts.”

Technican seen with an Intel Curie chip at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid, Spain on June 22, 2016.
Intel’s Tyler Fetters affixes an Intel Curie module onto a helmet at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid, Spain.

Several Intel Curie modules are affixed to each rider’s body and bike. Slightly bigger than a matchbox, each module is composed of the button-sized Curie – a system on a chip – that is loaded up with sensors including an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer and an ultra-wideband location sensor – all of which work together to calculate real-time data.

Red Bull X-Fighters 2016
Red Bull X-Fighters 2016

Hall developed the algorithms that make sense of the tracked data. For FMX, he spoke to athletes, broadcasters and teams at Red Bull to identify the most important aspects to measure during Red Bull X-Fighters, which include height, air time, hang time and speed, of both the rider and the bike.

The tech had to be unobtrusive.

“The last thing these athletes want is a puck of technology flying in their faces when they’re airborne,” he said.

Technican seen with an Intel Curie chip at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid, Spain on June 22, 2016.
Levi Sherwood learns about the tech at Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid.

The Curie technology was integrated in several sports at the Winter X Games in Aspen and the Summer X Games in Austin earlier this year. For X-Fighters, the tech had to go a step beyond, measuring both the athlete and the equipment.

Red Bull X-Fighters 2016
Red Bull X-Fighters 2016

“For FMX, the difference between how the athlete’s body moves and how their equipment moves is really important,” said Hall. “When we come up with a tech solution, we always want to make sure it fits, that we aren’t just gratuitously doing tech for tech’s sake.”

Hall and his team place receivers – called anchors – throughout the arena in Madrid. Those anchors, powered by Intel Edison, receive the data streaming off the riders and their bikes.

“The combination of all of them is what allows us to locate the riders in three-dimensional space,” said Hall.

Technican seen with an Intel Curie chip at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid, Spain on June 22, 2016.
Working behind the scenes at Red Bull X-Fighters.

The anchors also use the signals to determine the location of each of the modules and then relay that information to a central Intel NUC server, which stitches the data back together and pushes it through complex algorithms that analyze the motion. Another computer renders the graphics that appear on screens throughout the venue and on the Red Bull TV livestream.

“This all happens basically in a fraction of a second,” said Hall. “So the data must traverse this really complicated system fast enough so that viewers at home don’t notice the delay between when the sensor leaves and when it shows up on their screen.”

Technican seen with an Intel Curie chip at the Red Bull X-Fighters in Madrid, Spain on June 22, 2016.
Making tech unobtrusive to athletes is key at Red Bull X-Fighters.

The process requires a tremendous amount of sensor data, connectivity and compute power.

“It’s like a testament to how amazing wearable technology has become these days, that that can all happen so fast that it can be rendered on the screen as it’s happening, basically in real-time,” Hall said.

This is the first collaboration between Intel and RedBull Media House (RNMH) since the two companies began working together earlier this year.

“We want to combine technology and human performance in ways that have never been done before — or even imagined,” said RBMH’s CTO Andreas Gall.

“This capability is going to have a huge impact on how athletes train and approach performance improvement, but we think it will have an even bigger impact on how fans follow and experience those performances.”

Red Bull X-Fighters 2016
Red Bull X-Fighters 2016

Seeing the stunts is one thing, but actually understanding how much time the athletes spend in the air or the velocity of their jumps is something else, Hall said. Slo-mo replays, for example, will let viewers understand the riders’ movements and appreciate how each stunt is painstakingly composed.

Hall said the tech will pull fans deeper into action.

“When you’re not there, it’s really hard to appreciate the scale,” he said. “Even when you are there, putting a number that you can relate to something else that you know in your life, I think really enhances the fan experience.”

Like the hundreds of matadors that have performed at this arena, riders at Red Bull X-Fighters will unleash their bravery and athletic prowess, and for the first time, the data will dazzle everyone watching.


Editor’s Note: In this Experience Amazing series, iQ explores how computer technology inside is enabling incredible experiences outside. We look at how computer technology powers new experiences and discoveries in science, the maker movement, fashion, sports and entertainment. To learn more about the tech behind these stories, visit Experience Amazing.

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