AI on the Ball: Startup Shoots Computer Vision to the Soccer Pitch

Eyal Ben-Ari just took his first shot on a goal of bringing professional-class analytics to amateur soccer players.

The CEO of startup Track160, in Tel Aviv, has seen his company’s AI-powered sports analytics software tested and used in the big leagues. Now he’s turning his attention to underserved amateurs in the clubs and community teams he says make up “the bigger opportunity” among the world’s 250 million soccer players.

“Almost everyone in professional sports uses data analytics today. Now we’re trying to enable any team at any level to capture their own data and analytics, and the only way to do it is leveraging AI,” he said.

A Kickoff Down Under

In April, the company launched its Coach160 software in Australia, where it’s getting kudos from amateur soccer clubs in Victoria and Queensland. It uses computer vision to let teams automatically generate rich reports and annotated videos with an off-the-shelf camera and a connection to the cloud.

“The analysis and data provided by Track160 will prove a wonderful resource for our coaches and players,” said Vaughn Coveny, a retired pro soccer player now working with multiple youth teams in the region.

Startup With an AI Heritage

Miky Tamir, a serial entrepreneur in sports tech, co-founded Track160 in 2017. The company’s investors include the Deutsche Fussball Liga, Germany’s national soccer league, which contributed annotated datasets from several of its seasons.

“That helped set a baseline, then we applied transfer learning and developed an ever-growing internal database,” said Tamir Anavi, Track160’s CTO.

Using video from a single camera, the company’s software identifies and tracks players as 3D skeletons, then tags events and actions as they move.

“We use deep learning in every step to understand where the camera is, where the pitch is and where the players are on it,” Anavi said.

With that information, the software delivers detailed analytics and more. It constructs a 3D model so players and coaches can view any part of the game from any perspective, providing what Ben-Ari calls “a metaverse experience.”

Software Certified by the Pros

The Coach160 software got high scores for speed and accuracy in a benchmark for electronic tracking systems created by FIFA, the global federation of more than 200 pro soccer leagues. “We delivered the same performance as others who used six times more cameras,” said Anavi.

One pro league uses the code to get real-time data on game days. It processes 4K video streams with four NVIDIA GPUs and libraries that accelerate the work.

When it comes to AI, Track160 relies on NVIDIA TensorRT to make its models lean so they run fast.

“We couldn’t do inference without it. The work went from being impossible to running smoothly and that got our system from a prototype to production,” said Anavi.

Track160 frequently signed on as a member of NVIDIA Metropolis, a program for companies in intelligent video analytics. Ben Ari says he’ll tap the program’s early access to technology and expertise to accelerate his company’s growth.

Looking Beyond Oz

Australia was a natural first target given its penchant for new technology and large number of amateur soccer players and clubs, said Ben-Ari, who is already planning a launch in the U.S.

Long term, the company plans to train models for other sports, too.

“We see a kind of viral effect where everyone will want to have this,” he said.

“As a dad, I want to know what’s happening when my daughter plays, and even if they’re not pros, people want to know their performance,” said Ben-Ari, who likes to pour over his stats from  triathlons.

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