September 30, 2022

Two years from now, in baseball stadiums across the United States, the umpire behind a home plate may be little more than the mouthpiece of a robot. Major League Baseball plans to introduce robot referees in 2024 season, MLB . commissioner Rob Manfred said ESPN .this week. The change was coined as a way to speed up games, but anyone who’s watched baseball in the past few years will tell you that a machine will summon balls and hits better than humans.

There are two ways the Robot Ball Strike System, which is the technical term for robotics referees, can be applied. One is the fully automated version, in which the AI-powered system calls every layup or kick and relays the call to the referee. Or the MLB could decide to use AI as a review system, like VAR in football or the Hawk-Eye system used in professional tennis: each side faces a certain number of challenges, which are decided by the automated system.

Robot referees have appeared at minor league baseball games over the past two years, and the technology appears to be working. (It’s not much different from the hit area you see superimposed on a TV broadcast.) The current system was developed by a company called TrackMan, which also builds advanced ball-tracking technology for golfers. In practice, it’s quite simple: the referees put a dedicated iPhone in their back pocket and an earphone in their ear, and the system issues the ball or hits the headset after each step. Part of the goal was to make the product in the field look what it is, with phone calls being made – no huge robot standing behind the main board – just faster and more accurate.

The TrackMan system uses a Doppler radar system to track every degree.
Photo by John Tlumaki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

However, bots have definitely changed the game. The automated system tended to summon more hits than a human would, which meant that players had to re-calibrate their understanding of what the playing field was. Even with these robotic systems in place, umpires still have a lot to do with invoking the swing of checks, playing on the board, and sometimes even scraping control of the bots.

The robots started in Lower Divisions of Major League BaseballBut this season, they were Used in Triple-A games, which is the second best thing after specialties. for every ESPN, rule the bot cut nine minutes from the length of the average game in which it is used. (Manfred also said the pitch clock could be used to speed up the game, and that could come as soon as next year.)

The Robot Rulers felt like a certainty loomed for a while. They won’t solve everything, and they won’t end fan arguments – just ask anyone who’s been spoiled by a VAR call at a rough football match. But as baseball continues to find ways to appeal to a younger generation who aren’t interested in a five-hour game, bots may help speed it up.

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