Croke Park’s Smart Stadium Project has quite a view for the future

20 May 2016273 Shares

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Dublin is home to one of the world’s leading internet of things (IoT) programmes, with Croke Park the test bed for everything from pitch management and crowd control to micro-weather wind circulation – from above, it looks remarkable.

Croke Park smart stadium

More than a year ago, Croke Park partnered with Intel, DCU, Sun Devils Stadium and Arizona State University (ASU) to deploy pilot IoT technologies, mostly involving fan experience and crowd behaviour, throughout the home of the GAA.

Titled the Smart Stadium Project – making Croke Park the word’s first smart stadium – it has since grown to include many more companies, with Microsoft now getting involved to help process the amount of data garnered around the ground.

“Croke Park is a wonderful asset,” said Brian Quinn, director of European innovation at Intel Labs Europe. “And it’s right on our doorstep.”

Quinn’s enthusiasm for Croke Park is only natural, with the Smart Stadium Project’s tagline, ‘It’s a microcosm of a city’, pretty fitting. On match days, retail, health and safety, operations and crowd control come to the fore. On off-days, pitch maintenance and energy costs are prominent issues.

Weather dominates the whole lot, with a combination of the right sensors, in the right places, consuming mounds of data that can be extrapolated into wider smart cities initiatives.

One of the projects at Croke Park, for example, deals with micro-climate issues, and the data can be used to plan better for flooding problems around metropolitan areas. For example, heavy rain in Dublin could hit Drumcondra, causing problems, but completely miss Tallaght.

Intel’s micro-climate weather station at the top of the Cusack Stand – image via Luke Maxwell Croke Park

Intel’s micro-climate weather station at the top of the Cusack Stand – image via Luke Maxwell

Good and bad weather

What if Dublin City Council could plan for this? Quinn hopes that, now that affordability of micro-climate stations has improved, this is now possible.

Intel has a micro-climate weather station on the roof of Croke Park that measures rain, humidity, windspeed and wind direction. It’s very localised, in real time.

“The real breakthrough,” said Quinn, “is that you can merge so many data sources to make a better decision. We work with the Council on a broader smart cities project.

“You could take the microclimate in real time, the forecasts, the current climate in the Wicklow Mountains where our weather comes through and, between them, work out the flood likelihood. It’s about getting more intelligence to make better decisions.”

I was taken up to check out the weather station on the roof of Croke Park and, beyond just the scientific collection, it’s in a remarkable position. You can see every corner of the city from the top of the Cusack Stand, showing just how central a plan this is to the city, both from a geographical and planning standpoint.

The shade inches onto the Croke Park pitch from the Hogan Stand – image via Luke Maxwell

The shade inches onto the Croke Park pitch from the Hogan Stand – image via Luke Maxwell

Sun trap

Microsoft has come on board to help process the data that’s being collated, with DCU helping out too. The latter, in particular, when it comes to pitch maintenance and getting the right amount of sunlight on the grass.

“With three very high stands you don’t get good exposure to light,” said Suzanne Little of DCU and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. This means artificial – and incredibly costly – lighting is left on for 22 hours a day, six months of the year.

The solution is simple: cameras monitor the sunlight on the pitch, providing Little and her team with information on what time of the day certain sections of the pitch need attention.

Other projects like crowd noise are being investigated, as well as localised foot traffic, knowing what food stands can handle more people at any given time, for example.

“That can be useful for fans, stewards or even signage, which can react in real time,” said Little, nodding towards a management tool that can help future planning of service areas.

Dr Suzanne Little, researcher at DCU’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics, and Tomás Meehan, CIO of the GAA on top of Croke Park – image via Luke Maxwell

Dr Suzanne Little, researcher at DCU’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics, and Tomás Meehan, CIO of the GAA on top of Croke Park – image via Luke Maxwell

Transatlantic plan

We started this by saying Croke Park is the first smart stadium: clearly this is not true. Croke Park is doing the leg work for the creation of the world’s first truly smart stadium.

Little told me stadium planning takes in a number of aspects, some as simple as pitches facing north to south. “Otherwise, players run into the sunlight, which isn’t ideal. Although light is sacrificed the other way.”

Wind circulation can be planned for, especially when it comes to seating for events that don’t even come close to filling the stadium. At the moment, Tomas Meehan, CIO at the GAA, is pretty pleased with how it’s going so far, “as a proof of concept”.

“Every minute with the lights off is a cost saving. From Croke Park’s perspective, one of the reasons we’re trying to do this is for sustainability.”

ASU Sun Devils Stadium

ASU Sun Devils Stadium, via Vimeo

In Arizona, ASU is redeveloping its Sun Devils Stadium, that’s why it has partnered up. The data at Croke Park is all about increasing sunlight on the pitch, reducing water use. In ASU, the opposite is the case. The same data processing, the same results, opposing solutions.

Croke Park stepped in when the FAI and IRFU were redeveloping Lansdowne Road, providing a short-term solution to sporting codes alien to its traditional following. Now it’s stepping up for even more than that.

Oh and that view, again. Wow.

Main Croke Park image via Florian Christoph/Flickr

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

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