Doha, Qatar- There is a hall in Doha, the capital of Qatar, with hundreds of screens showing the crowd watching the 2022 World Cup matches.
With more than 1.2 million fans expected in the country for the World Cup, Qatar has set up a tech hub that uses artificial intelligence to keep tabs on spectators, predict swell and even monitor the temperature of the stadium.
More than 100 technicians will work around the clock at the Aspire command and control center, closely monitoring the images flashing on their screens via 200,000 integrated units, from 22,000 security cameras spread across the Cup’s eight stadiums of the world.
It’s from there that they can operate front doors, make sure there’s running water, and run air conditioners smoothly.
Facial recognition technology will allow the crew to zoom into each of the 80,000 seats at the Lusail stadium, which is set to host 10 matches, including the final.
Experts from cybersecurity to anti-terrorism to transportation will be stationed at the center, along with Qatari and FIFA officials.
Security cameras in all stadium areas will allow Mission Control to verify the operation of each venue before, during and after the event.
“With one click, you can go from one stage to [another] stadium, because we have integrated everything through our centralized platform, in terms of facilities management, security, health and safety and ICT [information and communications technology] operations,” said Hamad Ahmed al-Mohannadi, director of the center.
This is the future of how the sport will be covered, say the technicians, some of whom have worked behind the scenes since the 2006 Asian Games, hosted by Qatar. They just have a lot more gadgets at their disposal now.
Organizers say the “connected stadium” concept is the first of its kind to be used at a World Cup. AI will allow technicians to predict crowd surges and quickly deal with overcrowding by sharing information with security officials.
The aim is to avoid incidents such as the chaos that erupted in May outside the Stade de France in Paris, when police used tear gas and pepper spray on supporters trying to gain access to the final of the Champions League between Liverpool and Real Madrid.
In October, more than 130 people were killed in a crowd crush at a football stadium in Indonesia after police fired tear gas at fans who rushed onto the pitch, followed by people rushing into locked exits as they attempted to exit the stadium.
The technical team at the Qatar center say that aggregating the data allows them to predict crowd patterns. Since they know the exact number of people expected based on ticket sales, they can predict the influx of crowds. This could be based on arrival time, entry points or even the movement of people at any given time.
“We have the crowd control team and the security personnel on the ground, and we have law enforcement and we supplement their decision-making with data. So it’s very unique,” Niyas Abdulrahiman, the center’s chief technology officer, told Al Jazeera.
With the help of AI, the center can count the number of people in a space and apply a threshold. If there are more than 100 people in a particular area, for example, technicians can see bottlenecks, check the operation of entrance gates and ensure a smooth flow of people entering and leaving the stadium, explained Abdulrahiman.
All stadiums are air-conditioned. If there is a temperature deviation within the sites, the sensors in the command center can pick up the data and request an adjustment.
“Through this command center, our centralized platform gives us the ability to have rapid response, more performance in operations with fewer personnel,” Al Mohannadi told Al Jazeera.
The director is undeterred by cybersecurity threats. He said the systems are designed to be resistant to vulnerabilities.
“Obviously, all of this depends on rock-solid cybersecurity so that all of your systems are able to withstand any external or internal threat. We make sure the systems are secure. And we do it now as a routine to make sure that during the FIFA World Cup no major cybersecurity incident will occur.
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