The Tour de France is many things. It’s the world’s largest cycling event, attracting 150 million TV viewers in Europe alone and 10 million fans across social media platforms. It’s also a huge logistical challenge, requiring a complex network of road closures as well as ensuring millions of spectators enjoy the race safely.
Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), the organizers of the Tour de France, also need to ensure they can tell the story of the race to a vast audience of fans, something that hasn’t been easy over the years. Race officials stationed in remote areas have long had to contend with poor connectivity, and an ever-growing legion of viewers has stretched external-facing applications to their limits.
NTT, which has been the official technology partner of the Tour de France for the past eight years, has used its Edge as a Service offerings to help the Tour de France retain its status as the world’s premier cycling event. By embracing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital twins, A.S.O. have expanded the reach of the race to a new generation of fans and ensured they’re able to continually optimize race operations.
“We started working on Tour de France in 2015 and, when we began, the digital capability of the event was very limited,” says Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group (Sport) at NTT. “Lots of information was captured manually and communicated over race radio. There was limited information available on television and very limited available information available on digital.
“Today, you a see a television broadcast that’s full of live, rich data about rider speeds and time gaps, and you’ve got second screen apps like Race Center that allow you to follow every moment of the race.”
For example, by leveraging a digital fabric consisting of IoT sensors and real-time analytics, NTT created a digital twin of the Tour de France last year, turning the roads of France into the world’s largest connected stadium. This provides race organizers with an unprecedented view of the race, allowing them to deliver new and enhanced digital experiences to engage fans around the world.
NTT has also created a digital human, an interactive kiosk featuring a realistic AI-generated human avatar which functions as a digital Tour de France guide. The avatar was located at the Grand Depart in Copenhagen and in NTT’s Tech Truck, which follows the entire tour.
“It’s hooked into all of the knowledge that we have about the race and can talk with you authoritatively about what’s going on,” says Gray.
NTT has partnered with other sports organizers to transform the digital experience of sporting events such as the Absa Cape Epic, the Open Championship and the iconic NTT INDYCAR SERIES, where digital twin and predictive analytics technologies help to put fans behind the wheel of race cars.
However, beyond the sporting arena, there are lessons to be learned for all organizations looking to embrace technologies such as edge computing to digitally transform their businesses.
“What we’re doing with the Tour de France is a microcosm of the digital transformation that many businesses are going through. When I described the race being highly manual in 2015, that’s analogous to a business that’s running on manual operating processes, and continuing to use lots of paper, and having disconnected processes.
“Organizations are looking to use things like IoT to capture and measure different parts of their business. They’re looking to use things like digital twins to give them holistic visibility across an entire landscape.
“That landscape might be a race traveling across France, or that might be a factory or retail site.”
Learn more about the revolutionary fan experience in the world’s largest connected stadium.