After experimenting with using Verizon’s 5G and virtual reality to bring NBA closer to its fans, the Sacramento Kings basketball team says it is far from finished with technology projects.
From linking a smart arena to a smart city, to exploring the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency, Sacramento Kings CTO Ryan Montoya says the team is dabbling in whatever it takes to improve the fan experience.
A “21st Century Colosseum” and a hot dog challenge: Pushing tech in the arena
In designing the $500 million Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the Kings had four goals: To be iconic, as the world’s first indoor-outdoor arena; to be the most sustainable arena, with 100 percent of its power coming from solar panels and 90 percent of food sourced from within 150 miles; to be the most technologically advanced arena; and to use data to personalise fan experiences and remove friction.
With this in mind, the arena was developed to be smart from arrival — with its smart entry points allowing 1,000 people per hour to enter the venue instead of the 300 allowed by traditional turnstiles — all the way to game time, with fans able to use the tie-in app to watch multi-camera replays, upgrade their tickets, pay for parking, order food and drink, buy merchandise, and even adjust the under-seat thermostat vents.
To meet its technological and data-driven goals, the Kings team made hires from Apple and Qualcomm early on. A Disney Imagineer was even signed on to help design the world’s largest indoor 4K scoreboard so that viewers would never have to crane their necks to see the 38 million-pixel screen, no matter what angle they view the game from.
“We wanted to be able to bring in the best perspective, and also we didn’t want to look just at other sporting venues. We looked at everything, and so that’s why we brought in that Disney Imagineer to give us a perspective on that scoreboard … we wanted someone who could understand the UI and UX so that we could deliver the best fan experience,” Montoya explained.
Inside the arena is a 4K broadcast control room, which is responsible for delivering content to more than 800 screens, including the Disney-Imagineered 4K scoreboard.
The arena also houses a mission control centre, which sees 15 staff members monitoring dozens of screens and platforms during gamedays and events. The screens include real-time vision over usage of the app, how many beverages have been purchased, and local weather so as to push out notifications to customers.
It also has vision over how many people have entered the arena, and who.
“If there’s a season ticket holder, for example, who hasn’t been to three of the last four games, we’re able to intercept before they cancel their membership,” Montoya said.
With 1,000 Wi-Fi access points throughout the arena, posting to social media is not an issue for visitors. And with mission control being able to monitor Twitter mentions, it can address any concerns regarding fan experience at the venue.
“If a kid drops a hot dog, for example, in most instances the kid is upset, the parents are upset because they have to go stand in line and buy another hot dog, and there’s a hot dog on the floor — but here, whether we’re catching it on social media or through one of our guest services or a camera or a robot, we are then able to deliver that hot dog within moments,” Montoya said.
Once someone tweeted about how arena staff had swiftly replaced their hot dog within minutes of dropping it on the floor, he said it turned into a challenge on the social media platform.
“It started trending on Twitter, and everyone was dropping hot dogs.”
The mission control team also has the ability to contact Google Maps and Waze to change routes from green to yellow or red to account for real-time gameday traffic.
“But when you come in here during an event, they’re all green — and they’re all green because we’ve totally connected traffic cameras, parking meters, etc,” he added.
How an NBA team is pushing STEM, blockchain, and cryptocurrency
Also in the arena is a tier 4 data centre located right by the smart entry points, used by the Kings to not only handle connectivity — by housing two 100-gigabit pipes thanks to 650 miles of fiber-optic and 300 miles of copper cabling — but also to mine ethereum.
“In 2014, we were the first [sporting venue] to accept bitcoin in the world,” Montoya said.
“This past summer, we started mining cryptocurrency, so we’ve got these cryptocurrency rigs.”
By mining ethereum, the Kings technology team is using it as a way to “give back to the community” via both funding and providing STEM education for schoolkids across cryptocurrency and blockchain.
“We bring in students — some of them may have never heard of blockchain — just to show them that there are these computers in here that sit on a decentralised network, and explaining to them in very simple terms that we are actually creating money, and it’s through these algorithms that we’re able to do this,” Montoya said.
“So to expose fifth graders, eighth graders, ninth graders, tenth graders, that this is a future that they can be a part of, is something pretty exceptional.”
The Kings team is itself also exploring the use of blockchain to improve the fan experience leading up to and on gameday.
“We don’t know exactly where blockchain is going to take us, but we’re experimenting with blockchain every day. We’re experimenting because we know it’s going to revolutionalise a lot of things,” Montoya said.
“We’re looking to various aspects, from ticketing to payments, with blockchain.”
Other tech companies are also using the arena to trial their own innovation projects, including for blockchain applications.
“Because of the connectivity and because people from around the world hear that we’re working with great partners on 5G, we actually have a lot of the smart companies — I can’t disclose a lot of them — come here and are actually testing the next version of their apps,” he said.
“So on every front from AR to mixed reality to blockchain, we are running on all cylinders to be able to deliver the next best fan experience.”
Using 5G with Verizon
One of the companies partnering with the Sacramento Kings is Verizon, which trialled its 5G Home network at the arena just one month after launching the service.
In November, Verizon and the Kings invited a group of 20 students to watch the Kings-Los Angeles Lakers game at the arena, but via 5G-connected VR headsets in the Esports lounge that streamed footage in real time from courtside seats.
“We set up this 360-degree camera on the scores table, and what it allowed us to do was have the kids see the game as if they were sitting in a rare spot, and be able to put on the VR goggles … they would be able to watch the game courtside,” Verizon VP of Network Engineering Brian Mecum told ZDNet.
Mecum said the latency on the 5G network was low enough to watch the game in real time, with 5G providing immediate availability to connect, 1,000 times more bandwidth, and 20 times the speeds available on 4G LTE today.
“Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, often talks about how we have millions of fans throughout the world, and of those millions of fans only 1 percent have actually attended a game, and then only a very small fraction have actually sat courtside,” Montoya said.
“So to give these kids the perspective from essentially our owner sitting courtside is an amazing experience.”
The next step will be to bring in more people to experience games in this way, Montoya said.
Read more: Verizon showcases the potential of 5G with drones, Disney and more at CES 2019
5G will also enable real-time access to stats such as how fast players are running, how high they jump, how hard somebody dunks the ball, and whether the team speeds up or slows down in the final moments, which he said will be valuable for both fans and sports betting.
“You’re going to be able to see in real-time a lot more stats, a lot more context, and beyond betting you’re also going to be able to see in real-time eventually player stats,” he explained.
“Whether its AR, VR, or some version of mixed reality, you’re going to be able to look at those players and you’re going to be able to look at different data points on those players, and so it’s definitely going to bring fans closer to the game, closer to the players, and to give them more context and a better experience.”
The “stadium experience” will also be improved with 5G, Mecum said, including offering real-time information on the best way to get to allocated seats, wait times at restrooms and food stands, custom content, and interviews with coaches and players.
Verizon also sees 5G providing players with more access to analytics and insights for improving their performance, making stadiums a great use case for both consumer and business 5G.
Sacramento’s partnership with Verizon on smart cities and 5G
As the capital of California — the world’s fifth-largest economy — Sacramento’s political environment is also favourable towards technology, with Verizon striking a public-private partnership (PPP) with the city back in June 2017.
Sacramento’s city council had voted unanimously for the PPP with Verizon, which aimed to offer free Wi-Fi across public parks, fund STEM education, and increase public safety and city efficiency.
Under the partnership, Verizon connected cameras, lighting, and traffic control. This included installing advanced signal controls at major intersections to manage the flow of vehicles, reduce congestion, and improve public transport as part of Sacramento’s Vision Zero initiative to decrease traffic fatalities and severe injuries, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Digital kiosks are also set to supply Wi-Fi, security, wayfinding, and notice boards, with the PPP also covering the provision of security and privacy management across the real-time data being collected by the city.
“This partnership will serve as a critical step in upgrading our city’s infrastructure to support the newest and best technology and the economic growth that comes with that technology,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said at the time.
“It will also ensure that everyone who lives here or spends time here can experience the benefits of a safer, more mobile, and more sustainable city.”
Lastly, the partnership enabled the deployment of Verizon’s 5G network in Sacramento, with the PPP ensuring “streamlined permitting processes to install this technology efficiently”.
Read also: Verizon connects smartphone to 5G network
As a result, Verizon in late 2017 announced its plans to launch 5G in Sacramento by the end of 2018, later adding Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis, and Panama City, Florida to its launch list.
Verizon’s 5G Home service then launched in October 2018.
The Kings are “a big part” of the push for technology innovation in Sacramento, Mecum said, with Verizon utilising its partnership with the NBA team to push through its 5G and smart cities deployments with council.
“That [5G deal] we brokered on our own with the City of Sacramento, but it doesn’t hurt that the Kings are so tied to the politics so closely and pushing for all of these initiatives,” Mecum said.
“We found favourability also in Los Angeles … but Sacramento moved along faster and moved along further. Sacramento is doing really well with 5G Home, and it’s also the only NBA venue we have connected in the United States.
“So you see 5G just blossom across the board in Sacramento.”
Previous 5G Coverage
The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL is beautifully powerful
The first Mercedes-Benz SL debuted nearly seven decades ago in Germany and was a success in both racing and sales to the public. Mercedes-AMG has launched the latest 2022 SL in the line, and the car has been completely reborn. Mercedes says its new sporty car combines genes from the original SL along with modern AMG driving performance.
The car has features characteristic of its SL lineage with a long wheelbase, short overhangs, long hood, the passenger compartment set well back on the chassis with a steeply raked windshield. The grille of the new SL was designed specifically to emphasize the width of the front and features 14 vertical slats as a design element linking the new car to SLs of the past, specifically the 300 SL racing car from 1952.
Mercedes also integrates LED headlamps with sharp outlines and slim LED rear lamps. The interior is designed around a theme of performance luxury with something Mercedes-AMG calls a “hyper analog” cockpit. As one would expect inside of a Mercedes-AMG vehicle, only the best materials and quality can be seen to bring the highest level of comfort, style, and performance. The interior of the 300 SL Roadster is minimalist and features an adjustable center display located in the center console that’s focused on the driver.
The vehicle is a 2+2, and the seats bring more functionality than in SLs of the past. Of particular note, the rear seats are designed for daily practicality and usable space. The interior design combines what Mercedes calls analog geometry and the digital world to create the “hyper analog” design that’s attractive and functional without overwhelming.
The instrument panel is fully digital and features the standard MBUX infotainment system with a choice of multiple display styles and different modes. The electrically adjustable AMG sports seats have a sculptural design. Mercedes fits the Roadster with its AIRSCARF neck-level heating system as standard to blow warm air into the passenger compartment from outlets in the head restraints of the seats for driver and passenger. The goal is to allow the owner to drop the top and enjoy fresh air even if it’s cold out.
Mercedes-AMG designed the body of the SL utilizing a completely new 2+2 seat vehicle architecture designed to be as lightweight as possible utilizing composite aluminum and an aluminum space frame with a self-supporting structure. In addition, the design of the chassis provides maximum rigidity for precision driving, comfort, and sporty proportions. No components of the body or structure of the car are carried over from the past generation SL or any other AMG model.
Compared to the previous SL series, the torsional rigidity of the body shell is 18 percent higher, transverse rigidity is 50 percent higher than the AMG GT Roadster, and longitudinal rigidity is 40 percent higher. The body shell alone weighs 595 pounds making a lightweight yet strong structure. Aerodynamics is also a focus for the vehicle design providing a drag coefficient of 0.31, which Mercedes says is excellent for an open-air sports car. For the first time, Mercedes has also integrated an AIRPANEL air control system with two pieces for improved aerodynamics. The first piece has vertical louvers hidden beneath the lower air intake in the front bumper. The second component is behind the upper air intake and has horizontal louvers. In normal operation, all louvers are closed, reducing drag allowing air to be directed to the car’s underbody, reducing front-end lift. However, when temperatures on predefined components reach a specific number and the car needs cooling air, louvers open to allow maximum cooling to the heat exchangers.
The rear spoiler is integrated into the trunk lid and is active, changing position depending on driving status. To determine the ideal position, software controlling the spoiler factors in driving speed, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and steering speed. Considering all that data, the splitter can adjust through five different angular positions starting at 50 mph to optimize handling or reduce drag.
Buyers can choose the optional AMG Aerodynamics Package adding an active element hidden in the underbody in front of the engine to contribute to handling. The active element is a carbon profile weighing 4.4 pounds that reacts to AMG driving modes and extends downward to about 1.6 inches at 50 mph. The carbon profile component creates a Venturi effect to suck the car to the road surface and reduce front-axle lift. In addition, Mercedes AMG offers a range of aerodynamically optimized wheels in 20, or 21-inch diameters, including 20-inch wheels with plastic aero rings to save weight.
The SL also has a soft top optimized for lightweight and low center of gravity that replaces the previous metal vario roof. Moving back to a soft-top, Mercedes shaved 46 pounds and lowered the center of gravity for the all-new SL. Another interesting feature is that the soft top has a weight-saving z-fold mechanism that allowed Mercedes to dispense with a conventional soft-top compartment cover. The soft top is flush with the surface in its final position.
One of the highlights of any Mercedes-AMG vehicle is the engine. Mercedes-AMG continues with its “One Man, One Engine” principle with each SL engine built completely by one tech by hand. The SL offers two output levels of an AMG 4.0-liter V-8 biturbo engine. In the SL 63, which is the high-end model, the engine makes 577 horsepower and 590 pound-foot of torque. Fitted with that engine, the SL can reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. In the SL 55, the V-8 makes 469 horsepower and 516 pound-foot of torque. When fitted with that engine, the SL can reach 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. A performance hybrid version is in development.
Both engines are paired with an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9G transmission featuring a wet start-off clutch that replaces the torque converter for lower weight and optimized response. Both SL models feature AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive standard. The SL 55 has a newly developed AMG RIDE CONTROL steel suspension featuring aluminum shock absorbers and lightweight coil springs. This is also the first production Mercedes-AMG vehicle utilizing a multi-link front axle with five links that are arranged entirely inside the wheel rim. The SL 63 uses AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL suspension with active hydraulic anti-roll stabilization debuting in the model.
Another first for the new SL is active rear-axle steering that can turn the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front at certain speeds to improve handling. The SL has six different driving modes, including slippery, comfort, sport, sport+, individual, and race. The race mode is standard on the SL 63 and optional with the AMG DYNAMIC PLUS package for the SL 55. The SL 63 also has a standard AMG TRACK PACE data logging system for use on the racetrack, and the system is optional for the SL 55. The system can also be fitted with an optional dash cam to record video complete with overlaid data for lap times, speed, acceleration, and more. Pricing and availability on the new Mercedes-AMG SL are unannounced at this time.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV combines efficiency and all-wheel drive
Mitsubishi has premiered its redesigned plug-in hybrid Outlander crossover SUV. The Outlander PHEV will go on sale in Japan on December 16 and will land in Australia and New Zealand in the first half of 2022. Mitsubishi does plan on bringing the Outlander PHEV to North America in the second half of 2022.
Mitsubishi promises the crossover will have low CO2 emissions and a low environmental impact in terms of its lifecycle assessment. The all-new model has significant upgrades compared to previous versions. It utilizes a new PHEV system with more powerful road performance and a longer electric driving range.
Its all-wheel-drive system delivers safety and comfortable driving no matter the weather or road conditions. Mitsubishi also designed the vehicle with an attractive exterior and what it calls an “advanced, high-class interior.” The Outlander PHEV has an increase of about 40 percent total output for the front and rear electric motors and drive battery. That allows the model to drive in EV mode and avoid using the internal combustion engine as much as possible.
The system can operate on pure electricity even under hard acceleration. The drive battery has a total capacity of 20 kilowatts and delivers an all-electric range of 87 kilometers. Along with driving range, Mitsubishi promises optimized electric operation even with the air-conditioning on. Mitsubishi integrated a larger gas tank to expand the total driving range of the vehicle.
Outlander has a seven-passenger seating layout, and the control unit for the vehicle is outside the passenger compartment for improved quietness during use. The vehicle’s Super All Wheel Control vehicle dynamics control system is based on a twin-motor 4WD system with one drive motor in the front and another in the rear. The vehicle has seven drive modes, including Eco and Power. Mitsubishi promises that trim levels and pricing for the Outlander PHEV in the US will be announced closer to the on-sale date in the second half of 2022.
The Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost is payoff from a high-stakes luxury gamble
Back when Rolls-Royce unveiled the Ghost last year, it described the luxury sedan as “Post Opulent” design. Now, it’s giving the V12 car a sinister twist. The Black Badge Ghost joins the ranks of Rolls-Royce’s wildly successful Black Badge series, getting distinctive styling, an uptick in power, and a very particular appeal.
You could make a solid argument that Black Badge and Ghost really were made for each other. Both have proved to be wildly popular: Ghost may have launched in the midst of a global pandemic, but it was still Rolls-Royce’s most successful debut so far in terms of demand.
Similarly, though the automaker expected perhaps 10-15 percent of orders to be Black Badge models when it launched the sub-brand five years ago – and, indeed, faced some consternation that the customizations might dilute Rolls-Royce’s cachet – sales have significantly outpaced those conservative estimates. A full 40-percent of Cullinan SUVs are now ordered as Black Badge models, for example. Expectations for the Black Badge Ghost, then, are even higher.
The 6.75-liter V12 engine is kept, of course, but tuned for 591 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. A “regular” Ghost offers 563 hp and 627 lb-ft. 0-60 mph arrives in 4.5 seconds, while top speed is an electronically-limited 155 mph. Not bad at all for a four-door which still tips the scales at almost 5,500 pounds.
Rolls-Royce has paired the extra power with retuning of the eight-speed transmission. Peak torque arrives at just 1,700 rpm; switch to Low Mode and the gearshifts are completed in half the time. There’s custom mapping for the front and rear axle steering, too, and bigger air springs to ensure the “magic carpet” ride keeps up with more enthusiastic drivers.
What first grabs you, of course, is the styling. The Ghost was off to a good start there, taking elements of Phantom and reimagining them for a smaller, more lithe sedan. The rear-hinged back doors, upright grille, and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament remain, only now they’ve been paired with a darker, moodier palette of colors and finishes.
Though Rolls-Royce will happily complete your Black Badge Ghost in any of its paints, or indeed mix you up a custom hue, there’s also the “signature black” of the Black Badge label. Dubbed the auto industry’s darkest black, it’s a high-gloss finish that requires four craftspeople’s handiwork – a 3-5 hour job – after the final two layers of clear coat are applied. A pinstripe line – again, hand-applied – picks out the Ghost’s sharp creases along the hood and shoulder.
Dark chrome on the Spirit of Ecstasy, grille, and other brightwork tones down the glitter, and there are custom 21-inch wheels that are themselves something of an engineering marvel. Exclusive to the Black Badge Ghost, they start with a carbon fiber barrel – made up of 22 layers that are then doubled up for a 44 layer form – to which a 3D forged aluminum hub is attached with titanium fasteners.
Inside, popular features like the Shooting Star Starlight Headliner are kept, together with the glowing star-like motif that glitters in the dashboard. It’s paired here with custom timepieces for the Black Badge Ghost, and metal trim pieces given the same smoky finish as the exterior trim.
Time remains one of the Ghost’s big luxuries. The carbon fiber veneer, for example, first requires multiple wood layers be combined, with a top layer of black Bolivar; onto that, resin-coated carbon and contrasting metal-coated thread are applied, by hand, in a diamond pattern. Each part is cured for an hour, and then the whole thing is sand-blasted before six layers of lacquer are applied, hand-sanded, and polished.
Lashings of leather cover the rest of the surfaces, and while Black Badge cars typically feature a darker exterior color scheme, Rolls-Royce says its clients often go for something brighter and more striking inside. The technology remains surreptitious, with physical controls alongside twin displays for the infotainment system and driver instrumentation.
A standard Ghost begins at $393,500. The Black Badge Ghost package adds $43,850 to that, but then figure on spending more for the custom paint and other options. That might be plenty, but the order books are already open and Rolls-Royce says demand is already strong.
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