Panasonic is bringing its information technology expertise into the sports arena, seeking to leverage such strengths as powerful cameras and advanced image processing to expand its operations with an eye toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Panasonic Open golf tournament late last month featured cameras that can measure competitors' heart rates. This information was displayed on a monitor at the venue, as well as during live television broadcasts via a partnership with broadcaster BS-TBS, to give audiences an idea of golfers' tension levels.
The cameras use what Panasonic calls non-contact vital sensing to determine heart rate by analyzing subtle changes in facial color caused by the constriction of blood capillaries. Panasonic originally envisioned this being used in medical applications, but the company also saw a place for the technology in sports, where it can give audiences extra information and help athletes improve their mental toughness. Panasonic plans to market this to professional teams and sports organizations.
"Nothing needs to be attached to the body, so the burden on athletes is lower than with sensor-based" systems, said a member of the Japanese electronics giant's 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics business promotion department.
Another technology that got a trial run at the tournament was Vogo Sport, a video-distribution system developed by French startup Vogo. Panasonic has exclusive Japanese rights to the system, which lets spectators at a venue watch live video of the action on smartphones or other devices. Little additional equipment is required, keeping implementation costs low. The company plans to offer the system to stadium operators and organizers of sporting events.
At the Panasonic Open, Vogo Sport was used to share live footage of certain holes, letting users watch even from afar.
Golf courses are big, and "some spectators even use binoculars to see what's happening on the green," said Hitomi Kuroiwa of Panasonic's brand communications department. Vogo Sport proved popular, with about10% of attendees using the system, according to the company. Panasonic is also trying out the system with other sports such as rugby.
The company has had success supplying high-performance cameras to broadcasters, and products such as stadium displays to the sports industry. Now it seeks to expand beyond just equipment into related systems and services. By demonstrating this technology to viewers at actual sporting events like the Panasonic Open, the company aims to boost sales by giving potential buyers a better idea of how it looks in use.
Panasonic has been selected as a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, a position it hopes to use to strengthen its brand as well as grow its sports-related operations with the help of its unique technology. The company targets roughly 150 billion yen ($1.33 billion) in Olympics-related business.
"This should be able to get established as a business if it leads to improved competitiveness and new ways to enjoy sports," said the head of the planning division of Panasonic's Olympics business department.