Spectators and athletes at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships were among the first to see Thought Development, Inc laser-line system that displayed leading marks in field events.
Actually, Wednesday’s women’s javelin competition was the first time an in-stadium laser system was used globally in a live sporting event.
“Since the days of Bill Bowerman,” Associate Athletic Director Vin Lananna said in a press release, “TrackTownUSA has been committed to enhancing the experience of the athletes and spectators. The technology developed by Thought Development, Inc represents the next step in a long traddition of innovation in TrackTown.”
How it works is actually relatively simple.
A three-man crew — one on the field with radio, one on the roof of Hayward Field’s west grandstand, and one on press row working with a laptop — operate a state-of-the art laser system that displays the current leading mark in field events on the field.
At field level the laser’s inventor, Alan Amron, radios the leading mark to an operator on press row who plugs the numbers into a laptop. A third operator monitors the laser itself on the roof who can shut off the laser if anything goes wrong.
Even if it were to be left on throughout the event, there’s no safety issue with the laser.
“It’s safer than a laser pointer you would use in a powerpoint presentation,” said Larry Weisman, the company’s public relation’s director.
Unlike the first-down lines seen on NFL and college football games however, this line is just as visible on the field and in the stands as it is on television.
“It helps build excitement,” said Greg Litchy, a freelancer assisting Thought Development, Inc with in-stadium operations. “If we had it our way, we’d be leaving it in there when the people jump.”
For the last several months, Litchy has worked with Amron helping to develop the technology, but things have really picked up in the last few weeks. Amron and Litchy did several demos for the NCAA at Hayward in early May and got the green light from Lananna and TrackTown USA CEO Michael Reilly to set up for nationals.
The laser itself is mounted on a customized rig on the Hayward Field grandstand so it can switch easily from one event to another.
For now, the laser is showing just the leading mark, but Litchy says that’s just a baby step. In the future, the lasers could show world records and personal bests in addition to leading marks.
The possibilities go well beyond track, as well.
“I don’t think there is a limit,” Amron said. “I think you could use it in all different sports, it can be used in any delineation of in any markings you need in an area on the floor…Lasers are always being used at night, we’re the first people to really take a laser and start using them during the day for different visual thing. ”
Instrumental in rolling out this new technology were Mark James, a USA Track & Field Foundation Board Member, and Mr. Vin Lananna – also a board member. Mark James vision created the John W. James Endowment in July 2010 (http://usatffoundation.org/