The All Blacks of the future

16:00, Oct 25 2009
richie mccaw rugby future
BETTER THAN EVER: Richie McCaw's equivalent in 2050 could have chips embedded in his boots to track his position on the field.

Forget Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, the All Blacks may need bionic limbs, chips and sensors if they are to win the 2050 Rugby World Cup.

Rugby players could be genetically engineered and referees replaced by robots, says Victoria University associate professor of management Ian Yeoman.

Referees could use the technology behind Aiden – a poker-playing robot developed in South Africa that can bluff and sense if other players are bluffing – to detect if players are faking injuries, he says.

Team managers will be able to measure players' heart rates, activity and performance through "smart shirts" equipped with sensors that measure physiological information.

"They can make decisions then about whether they change tactics and when is the best time to bring subs in."

RFID chips could be embedded in balls and the boots of players to track where they are and whether they stray out of play, and robotic linesmen would spot forward passes and offside players – eliminating refereeing errors.

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Stadium seats could be kitted out with vibration devices that buzz to get crowds on their feet, and bio-technology used to speed up the healing of injuries and the recovery of players after games.

Augmented reality technology – which superimposes computer-generated images on to real life objects and images – could be used to show players' statistics as they rove around a field or court.

Technology could even banish bad weather, he says. "You can fire rockets into the atmosphere that induce rainfall to beat the weather and try to get it right for a specific micro-climate."

Dr Yeoman has written a paper on the role science and technology could play in sport called How New Zealand wins the Rugby World Cup in 2050.

His suggestions might sound a bit far-fetched but they could easily become a reality, he says.

By 2050, New Zealand's population will be much older, meaning there will be fewer young people joining professional rugby and more call for technology to boost the performance of older players. "There'll be pressure on the New Zealand Rugby Union to use science and technology to maintain its position as the world's No 1 team."

Money is a major driver in sport, and teams will turn to technology to ensure they keep winning games, sponsorship and TV deals, he says. Cyborgs might seem the stuff of science fiction but researchers have already developed bionic limbs.

"Today when you talk about technology you've got to live in the world of science fiction and quantum leaps."

The Dominion Post