IBM Returns to US Open to Show How Watson and Bluemix Play with Data

Xconomy New York — 

Last week, as the opening matches began at the 2016 US Open Tennis Championship in Queens, IBM put some of its innovations in data and software on display for the media.

Big data being captured and processed from the tennis matches, gathered from sensors at courtside, and the library of data points from prior championships is something IBM has shown off before. This time, the Armonk, NY-based company also rolled out a robot, named Pepper, that interacts with voice commands. Moreover, IBM offered up other examples of what its Watson and Bluemix technology can do.

“All major services of Watson come into play when you do a human and machine interaction,” said lead engineer Amrish Chaubal. The company’s Watson platform uses machine learning and natural language processing to draw insights from vast data. Chaubal said Pepper, thanks to Watson, learned to understand certain emotions, phrases, and gestures to respond. “We’re a step closer to when Pepper can cheer me up by telling jokes because it can visually figure out that I’m sad,” he said.

Lead engineer Amrish Gaubral (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

Lead engineer Amrish Gaubral (left) explains how IBM Watson technology lets Pepper learn (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

Pepper can also ask follow-up, clarifying questions so it can give the most appropriate answers. (The interaction with the robot is a developing process, as the technology learns and comprehends.) IBM works with Hilton Hotels, which uses Watson-enabled robots to interact with its guests.

Watson also worked its way into the US Open app for guest services. Within the app is a feature that lets fans ask questions, using natural language, about traveling to and from the tennis tournament, what their meal options are, and other amenities—such as where to find a soda or the nearest taxi stand.

IBM technology at US Open. (Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM).

IBM technology at US Open. (Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM).

Not everything on display was just about tennis. IBM also showed its technology at play with the Internet of Things, such as using the Bluemix platform to hack a BB-8 Star Wars Droid toy from Sphero to respond to mental commands from a wireless headset developed by Emotiv Systems.

IBM technical liason Joshua Carr

Joshua Carr (right), IBM technical liaison, sets up a BB-8 Sphero toy to be controlled (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

It is no secret IBM has been eager to get more developers using Bluemix to create apps and software; the company set up “garages” in the US and abroad for developers to work with onsite experts to find more ways to leverage the platform.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA), which organizes the US Open, and IBM are also using a combo of Watson and Bluemix for real-time analysis of the matches and other uses. This includes a speech-to-text API that automatically generates transcripts and subtitles from interviews with players, and an application that analyzes photos to more quickly identify players on the courts and celebrities in the stands. For instance, tennis legend Billie Jean King herself came out last week to watch top seed Serena Williams.

Given the more than 25 year relationship IBM has with the USTA, and the mountains of data it continues to work with from the organization, it is safe bet that more of its technology will appear at US Open tournaments yet to come.US Open 2016