Working with researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, along with Tennis Australia, digital agency AKQA is applying a new technology called Action Audio to translate ball movement during Australian Open tennis matches into “3D audio,” or binaural sounds, cues that enhance the ability of blind and low-vision (BLV) fans to enjoy each contest. Action Audio harnesses the ball-tracking data already being collected by multiple cameras at major tennis events and uses distinct audio cues to indicate the type of shot as well as ball velocity and location. The system can work in sync with televised broadcasts. BLV fans use standard headphones and connect via the Australian Open Radio website or Google Assistant.
While it’s possible to enjoy a sports event simply by listening to the play-by-play—especially via radio—even casual fans frequently have experienced a disconnect between what they witness and what’s described by commentators. “The intention of Action Audio is to fill a gap to help blind or low-vision fans make their own assessments and have their own agency in appraising what’s happening,” says Tim Devine, executive innovation director at AKQA. It’s the winner of the Asia-Pacific category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.
After launching a pilot for three matches at the Australian Open in January 2021, AKQA expanded its Action Audio deployment to nearly 60 matches at this year’s event and estimates more than 10,000 fans used the service. AKQA has plans to expand to other major tennis events and other sports, from cricket to surfing.