A Bristol man has invented new technology which could improve the way the video-assisted referees and television match officials work in football and rugby.
Patrick Sullivan’s new technology could replace the traditional VAR in football, TMO in rugby and ‘Hawk-Eye’ in tennis – but it is rugby that could really benefit from the invention.
The 25-year-old, who went to the University of Bristol and has stayed on in the city to develop his technology and do a doctorate, has now taken out a patent for the idea.
The patent uses electromagnetic materials instead of cameras, and effectively is a modern kind of scan or x-ray that will pinpoint the bodies and balls where traditional VAR camera angles are obscured.
Patrick came up with the idea while at university in Bristol, after getting frustrated by the failure of the TMO system to be able to spot whether a try had been scored at the bottom of a maul in rugby.
The electromagnetic technology won’t stop the kind of human errors that saw both the on-pitch referee Mike Dean and the VAR Stuart Atwell inexplicably miss Everton’s Ben Godfrey appear to deliberately stand on the face of Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu at Goodison Park on Monday night, but it would prove invaluable where the regular cameras are obscured.
“This invention could compete with and even replace current technologies,” said Patrick.
Current designs rely on cameras which track a ball’s trajectory to check if it crossed the line. But the new patent uses electroconductive materials such as nickel, silver or graphene instead.
The benefits for rugby, where referees struggle to peer into a mass of bodies to ascertain whether the ball has been grounded or held up over the line, are obvious – the technology would scan everything in the scene and be able to ‘see through’ players to see the status of the ball.
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But the new system could also be used in other sports like football and athletics, and for performance analysis and refereeing.
Patrick has worked on the project for two and a half years, and has a GB patent, a pending international patent, and is about to set up a new company to develop the technology.
He said he always wanted to be an inventor. “When I was 11 one of my dad’s closest friends told me ‘you can’t be an inventor but you can be an engineer, which is almost the same thing’,” he said.
“I used to design stuff all the time back then. My first idea for a single item dishwasher was never going to happen, nor was my wind turbine-powered car, but while on my engineering undergraduate at Bristol University I finally hit on one that could work.
“This invention could compete with and even replace current technologies used in football, tennis, rugby and more. It will be great to add something to the sports that I’ve spent so many years following,” he added.
His idea got off the ground when he linked up with Dr Mo Abolkheir, an honorary philosopher of inventions and patents at the University of Bristol, who said he had begun mulling the problem over himself, after watching a debatable decision at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
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“As a philosopher, it is quite satisfying to see an abstract model being implemented and producing successful practical results,” said Dr Abolkheir. “As a teacher, it is a genuine pleasure to collaborate with Patrick Sullivan, who exhibited impressive engineering competence even when he was still an undergraduate.
“The team is currently working on further technological developments, with more patents to come: watch this space.”
Now Patrick said he can actually speak up when someone in the pub says ‘they need to invent something’ as another TMO ‘try awarded’ decision is debated. “When I was in the pub with mates I had to grit my teeth when decisions were being made by TMO or VAR,” he said. “Now the patent has been issued I can finally tell them about the invention,” he added.