Action Audio brings tennis to blind and visually impaired fans

Action Audio brings tennis to blind and visually impaired fans

Action Audio is developed by Tennis Australia, Monash University, and design and innovation firm AKQA. The tool takes visual and spatial data from the tennis court and converts it into sound.

Taking their cues from blind tennis, where a tennis ball often contains beads to make it sound or jingle, Action Audio uses different sounds to represent different elements of the game.

When listening to a tennis match, it will make a flashing sound every time the ball touches the ground, the sound in your left or right ear depends on where the ball is. The more flashes you hear, the closer the ball is to the perimeter of the court and as the ball floats through the air, the listener will hear a jingling bell with a high pitch for the forehands and a low pitch for the backhands.

AKQA’s executive director of innovation, Tim Devine, said the tool has done a lot of testing with the blind and visually impaired community to make sure what’s created is useful.

“It’s about information at a simple level, and it’s about empowerment as well. It’s about creating another layer of information that allows blind people [people] Or anyone with poor eyesight to make their assessments about what’s going on in the game,” said Mr. Devin.

“This is the richest experience we can have as human beings and that’s what makes it social as well. If you don’t have that layer of information that allows you to sort of summarize that, you lose the ability to kind of participate in the conversation about the game.”

Mr. Reed said the need for these tools has been around for a long time, but technology is making it easier and more feasible to scale up quickly.

“I remember in 2001, I was sitting on the field in Italy. It was a small event, and it was two seats off me. [Italian operatic tenor] Andrea Bocelli. He’s a passionate tennis fan but had a friend comment on the match on his behalf.”

“This has been something we have struggled with as a community for a long period of time. We have always looked for opportunities to make them more accessible but the introduction of real-time tracking gave us an opportunity.”

After piloting a successful pilot at AO in 2021, the tool is now being rolled out to all center court matches at this year’s Grand Slam event, with a focus on growing that into the future. AKQA topped AFR BOSS Innovations for 2021 in the Media and Marketing category for its audio work.

“With some speed in mind, we want to expand the show for this year’s Australian Open, to deliver it across more stadiums for more days, to make it immediately available to more listeners at home,” Reed said.

“Part two is extending tennis. So until last year we had interest from colleagues at the US Open and some English events because they saw what happened at the Australian Open in 2021 and they saw the response and it went well, so this is an opportunity for ourselves to make our events even more. ease.”

Tennis Australia and AKQA also believe Action Audio can create a new language for the sport.

“It can go beyond tennis,” Reed said, referring to sports like cricket and baseball, which could be made more accessible with tracking technology.

“There is a real opportunity to change the way consumers approach sports, not just tennis,” he said.

Mr. Devine wants a tool like Action Audio to become the standard in all sports for the next generation, with the expectation that it will be there as another layer of information helping people engage with and absorb the sport.

For now, Tennis Australia is focused on ensuring the technology is working well through the Australian Open and attracting listeners to the tool, which can be accessed via the Australian Open Radio app.

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