In 2019, Omar Salem saw a video of two spectators at a football match. One of them was visually impaired and his friend was tracing the action of the game on the man's open palm. Salem was struck by the generosity of the deed, but it also got him thinking: does the friend want to spend the whole game providing feedback? Wouldn't it be better if there was some way a visually impaired person could enjoy the thrills and spills of a football game independently?
"Omar realised that the problem could be solved with technology and that's the origin of Field of Vision, " explains David Deneher, who co-founded the company with Salem and Tim Farrelly in 2020.
“There are millions of visually impaired football fans worldwide. In the UK alone, 43 per cent of those with a visual impairment are football fans who can’t really experience the action of live football. Audio descriptive headsets are becoming more common in stadiums across Europe but, after speaking with fans, we learned that the commentary, no matter how detailed, struggles to capture the intensity and excitement of a live game.”
Field of Vision uses haptic technology – the use of tactile sensations such as vibration to simulate the sense of touch – and advanced computer vision modelling to provide visually impaired fans with a real-time experience of what’s happening on the pitch. To access the game a fan uses a box (smaller than an A4 page) with the imprint of a football pitch on the top. The action is transferred on to the device via a magnetic finger-piece that moves across the surface and mirrors the progress of the ball.
“We extract all the important action from the game using a feed from our cameras positioned around the ground and our specialised algorithm uses computer vision to track the location of the ball on the pitch,” Salem says. “These coordinates find the location of the ball and send it to our device in real time and haptic motors combined with auditory feedback further immerse the user in the match.
“The haptic technology means fans can feel the action for themselves without relying on the commentator’s interpretation.”
The Field of Vision device is light, portable and battery powered and is compatible with wifi, Bluetooth and 5G connectivity.
The main customers for the device will be sports venues that will buy the units and provide them to fans. It will up to the individual venue to decide if there will be any charge to use the device but the expectation is that it will be free. The device only works inside the stadium.
“Our device is lightweight, handheld and wireless and it features multiple unique levels of vibration, giving the users a holistic sense of the game while our AI model allows us to cover many live games at the same time with very low costs,” Deneher says.
The pitch on the top can be changed to accommodate other sports and while the founders are targeting football fans to begin with, the next step will be to expand their service to other square pitch or court games.
The company's founders met as youngsters attending Sutton Park School in Dublin and are all still at college. Salem is studying aerospace engineering at Queen's University, Belfast; Deneher is in third-year computer science and business at Trinity College and Farrelly is studying computer engineering, also at Trinity.
To date roughly €40,000 has been raised to fund the company’s development, with support coming from Trinity College’s Launchbox and the Alsessor artificial intelligence accelerator.
The price of the device and where it will be manufactured have yet to be decided, but Salem says that, costs and logistics permitting, the preference would be to have it made in Ireland. Field of Vision is currently in a pre-testing phase with Bohemians FC and several more trials are on the cards.