OneCourt’s haptic mini-field lets blind fans follow the game by touch

Sports fans most often take in their favorite game by watching it on TV or from the venue itself, but those with blind and low vision generally must rely on the announcer or a radio broadcast. OneCourt aims to augment their experience with a lap-top miniature field that lets someone feel the position of the players and ball in near real time.

The company was showing off its tech at CES 2024 in Las Vegas. The team, composed of recent graduates from the University of Washington (and here it must be said, Go Huskies), were concerned about the lack of access to the latest information for people who can’t see well.

There’s nothing wrong with the radio broadcast, but it’s often delayed by 10 to 30 seconds, and neither it nor live announcers provide the spatial detail that sighted fans are treated to.

Fortunately, many major league sports broadcast the exact, real-time locations of the players and ball along with video and audio. The OneCourt team takes this information and transmits it to a haptic display with a touchable cover imitating the pitch or field lines.

I tested the battery-powered device briefly on a demo game the team had playing at their booth at CES. You place your hands flat on the laptop-sized “field,” and the movements of the main characters of the play (quarterback, receiver, ball) are transmitted via vibrations that shift around with a reasonable amount of fidelity. I could tell, for instance, that a player had caught a pass and was running up the left side, but I couldn’t tell you how close he was to the paint. Different intensities and patterns correspond to things like snaps, tackles and so on.

The tech can easily be adapted to other sports, since most obligingly use similarly rectangular spaces and often transmit player data. OneCourt CTO Andrew Buckingham told me they hope to offer sponsored devices free right at venues, the way you can ask for subtitle displays or audio descriptions at the movie theater. That way when the crowd goes nuts, a person who can’t quite see the play doesn’t have to wait for the recap to understand the epic rush that prompted it.

Buckingham said they’d already had interest from some in the business, and are working toward raising a seed round over the next few months to take the business and hardware to the next level.

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