My Killer App for Oculus

It seems clear to me the first generation of apps for the Oculus VR goggles will be targeted at vertical markets and specifically gaming. Its initial price and design makes it a bit expensive for consumers and, until it can work as a standalone device with all of the intelligence inside the goggles themselves, its reach will be limited. But once it becomes a standalone device I have what I believe will be a killer vertical app that could have a serious impact on America’s favorite pastime.

A few weeks ago, I was watching my beloved SF Giants on TV and their pitcher Ryan Voglesong threw what looked like a perfect strike. However, the umpire called it a ball. Replays showed it was clearly a strike but the blind as a bat ump called it differently. This so pissed off Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Ryan Voglesong that, even though they knew they would be thrown out of the game since they are not allowed to protest balls and strikes, each gave the umpire their humble view on the matter and, of course, were unceremoniously tossed from the game. Thankfully, the Giants won that game but the call pissed off Bochy and Voglesong as well as most of Giants Nation. I brooded about it for days and am still mad at this call.

I have often thought the use of technology to get balls and strikes right should be instituted into the game. The technology is clearly there to make it happen. Replays to do this would only slow down the game but they could use laser or sensors built into home plate and, using a serious algorithm, allow the ump the ability to get the call right since it appears, at least on paper, the strike zone is well defined.

According the Major League Baseball Rule Book the strike zone is:

1996 – The Strike Zone is expanded on the lower end, moving from the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees.

1988 – “The Strike Zone is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the top of the knees. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”

It also encompasses home plate since it has to cross between the lines of the plate as well as from the midpoint to the bottom of the knees.

I realize each batter’s stance helps define these rules but let’s face it, the pitch crosses the plate so fast that, unless an ump’s reactions are stellar, they are bound to make mistakes. Yet, these rules are finite and the technology is here to make sure the umpire can get the call right every time. If Major League Baseball is serious about the game having a level playing field fair for all, then they can’t ignore this last bastion of tradition when it comes to getting balls and strikes right. They already employ instant replay and it has brought a greater level of accuracy to live field calls. So why not take the next step and use technology at home plate?

This is where Oculus could make a difference. MLB has rejected the laser/sensor idea for various reasons, including being able to get info to the ump in real time to make an instant call. But if an umpire was using the Oculus goggles with an algorithm that takes into account all of the real-time parameters of the plate, top of shoulder, bottom of knee info, they could get this call right every time. Oculus, or whatever VR goggles they would use, would have to have a see-through lens so they could see the game played out but it could have a red or green light that instantly goes off in the corner of the goggles to let the ump know if the pitch is a ball or strike and add a level of greater accuracy to the game itself. Actually, Oculus goggles might be overkill for this but this is where it or smart glasses could be used to make this game more fair for the players and the final outcome of a game.

Will this ever happen? Well, I never thought MLB would do replays of live field play and that is now part of the game. I know traditionalists will push back against this idea but there is a technological answer to this issue and, using some type of glasses or goggles tied to sensors or lasers that give instant feedback to an ump, could add a new level of fairness to a sport ingrained into America’s cultural fabric.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

6 thoughts on “My Killer App for Oculus”

  1. I think decorum requires the umpire to be on the field and ruling from his own subjective point of view. Virtual reality is out, as are umpires tucked in a room somewhere. What could happen at best is Augmented, not Virtual, Reality, with the umpire being fed data (not video, or his brain would explode trying to process 2 or more points of view) to… Google Glasses seem the best medium for that.

  2. At that point baseball becomes a video game. As far as I’m concerned the ump’s chances of getting it wrong help make for a more dynamic game. How many pitchers known for painting the corners would still be the greats they are if an ump wasn’t able to give them the benefit of the doubt on questionable calls?

    Also when an ump gets known for a tight or generous strike zone it is great to see if and how the pitcher adjusts.

    I hope technology never becomes the arbitrator for sports. There is no soul in perfection.


    1. Though I agree with you, I have to admit that hockey, a much faster sport, has not suffered from “getting it right”.

      But I am a baseball fan too, and totally see where you’re coming from. How would the computer be able to judge a batter with an unusual stance. Heck, how will it recognize a spitball, or knuckball, that nicked the corner in the last second. The warts are part of the game.

      1. One pitcher I have in mind in particular is Greg Maddux. Not everything he threw that was called a strike was necessarily a strike and likely the ump who called it strike knew it wasn’t a strike either. But that Greg Maddux meant to throw it exactly at that spot was hard to argue against. No technology can know that about a pitcher.


  3. As a big fan of both baseball and technology, I have to say this is a pretty horrible idea. As you even said, goggles would be over-kill for this as there are a number of ways the information could be relayed to an umpire. Also, the home plate ump does a lot more than just call balls and strikes and goggles could interfere with those tasks.

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