How IBM Is Making Stadium Events More Interactive

How IBM Is Making Stadium Events More Interactive

A new app from the company will let fans make coordinated 'card stunt' signs with their phones to spell out a giant message

Anna Johansson
  • 26 may 2017

No sporting event feels complete without the crowd holding up brightly colored cards and signs to support their favorite teams—especially ‘card stunts,’ in which groups hold posters that, together, form a word or phrase.

But coordinating these cheering efforts can be complicated. It’s not uncommon for cards to be out of order or difficult to read because of movement, and the planning itself is also difficult. A new app from IBM wants to solve this problem by letting crowds project their signs with a single tap.

Card Stunt from IBM is a social platform that allows groups of people to link their mobile devices and deliver a single message to their favorite teams and players.

“The idea is to give event organizers a way to link participants with a singular message—wherever the crowd is, and wherever each participant is in the crowd, and with no more prep than the app installed on a mobile device,” Inseok Hwang, an IBM researcher, wrote in the company’s announcement.

“Concert-goers will be able to hold up their phones or watches, versus a lighter, to declare Bruce Springsteen ‘The Boss’ at the E-Street band’s next tour stop,” the announcement continues. “With Card Stunt there’s no worries about the letters being out of order, or a picture being upside down! The app turns your device into a digital card that instantly links and orients to the devices around you.”

How Does This Work?

It’s a great idea, but how does the message go from a few smartphones so that the whole crowd can see it? There’s a very complicated technological process that takes place here, but basically, it uses “high-precision mobile visual light sensing.” It accesses your camera and movement sensors to turn the phone’s screen into a white ‘card.’ When users place their phones next to each other, the screens light up and form a word.

The app uses the phone’s camera and inertial processors to recognize where it is in relation to other phones. Once the message is conveyed across the cloud to each connected phone, it can display the message, large and proud, without any frames out of order. Additionally, the message will automatically recalibrate to keep the sign up if someone leaves the group.

IBM has opted to use the phone’s camera to detect the position of the owner because it is more accurate than GPS or Wi-Fi alone. These can only detect a range within a few yards, but where you have several people participating in close proximity, they won’t be able to distinguish whether or not someone moves or leaves the crowd. The camera can distinguish the location of a phone within mere inches.

There’s very little planning involved in the actual creation of the message. One person develops the message and sends a request to participants to activate their app. Recipients are instantly notified of the request, which means that you can schedule a sign event without planning ahead of time. It eliminates the need for preparation, organization and rehearsal.

It’s not exactly clear how effective this method will be. It seems that one major limitation will be daylight. Will you be able to see what’s on the phone with the sun shining brightly? This is one kink that IBM still needs to work out.

Beyond Sporting Events

There are uses for this application beyond sporting events as well. Any time a group of people wants to make an organized statement, they can do so with the help of the app. For example, activists can easily create and project signs during an organized protest.

Designed for a group of people come together for a united purpose, the app will likely be useful to activist groups, as it opens up possibilities for making a message heard. Should protestors want to display more than one statement, rather than making up a few signs ahead of time and carrying them all with you, you can instantly change your message through the app.

Card Stunt Expands

Right now, Card Stunt is in the makings. IBM plans to debut it at the MobiSys conference in Niagara Falls in June. However, they already have big things planned for this app that could change organized events as we know them.

IBM is running a number of tests of the app now to ensure scalability and participation. The app makers would like to incorporate it with other apps as well for greater social and integration options. They’re counting on the feedback and consensus of its users to deliver an effective message every time.

IBM researchers also say that the number of users in a group could be unlimited. “There’s theoretically no limit to the total number of devices that could participate, as each device works out where they are rather than a central system,” Chungkuk Yoo, who worked on the app during an internship at IBM, told New Scientist.

IBM Card Stunt

Lead Image: BARCELONA – FEB 21: A general view of the Camp Nou Stadium via Shutterstock

No sporting event feels complete without the crowd holding up brightly colored cards and signs to support their favorite teams—especially ‘card stunts,’ in which groups hold posters that, together, form a word or phrase.


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