Future of Darts – Scorekeeping

When considering  different aspects of Darts that might be ripe for technological change, score keeping immediately comes to mind.

nodorsupawire2_250pxDarts score-keeping systems have stagnated for decades, and this appears ripe for change in the very near future.  Currently, most steel-tip darts games are still scored with chalk or other manual marking methods.  The mechanical workings of soft-tip darts machines have not changed significantly since the 1970’s.

But technology moves on, and that is especially true of computers & electronic sensor technology.  Modern smartphones contain more computer capacity than typical mainframe computers of the 1970s.  Video cameras and ultrasonic sensors are now cheap enough to integrate into consumer devices ranging from phones to children’s toys.

So what does this mean for Darts?

The potential now exists for the development of remote sensing (probably optical-recognition) scoring for darts.  The technology & components are readily available, only appropriate software is needed.

In recent years, there have been several attempts to develop such a scoring system (see notes at end of this article) but none have yet been completely successful.  It is likely just a matter of time.

Once developed, the advantages would be so great that it might very quickly become the standard for all types of darts & dartboards.  No more chalk or markers for steel-tip darts, and no more need for mechanical parts for softip darts.

Most previous efforts to use optical scanning for darts scoring used complex systems involving LEDs and photocell sensors scan a dartboard’s surface and determine a dart’s location by noting areas where the light was blocked.  Two examples of this are the LaserScore and Revolution dartboards.  These systems were built into cabinets, along with custom electronics, and were fairly expensive.

Cell phone cameras are now being used to scan & identify fingerprints, barcodes, even human faces.  Optical recognition is becoming ubiquitous, used for examining everything from auto license plates to factory production lines.

Other remote sensors systems similar to Kinect and Leap Motion might also be capable of performing remote-scoring of darts.

It is not at all difficult to imagine a program, or app, using such sensors to scan a dartboard and determine the score.

A smartphone app, for instance, might allow a darter to just aim a phone’s camera at a dartboard, perhaps moving it around a little to provide multiple points-of-view. The camera (or other remote sensor) images would be processed by the cell phone or perhaps by a remote computer network, like Siri.  Perhaps a web site database would be updated, and the scores posted to a remote monitor near the dartboard.

The Google Glass project would be ideal for such an app: just wear the Glasses while playing, and automatically have the score displayed as you play.

For a commercial system, networked cameras could be ceiling-mounted to scan and display scores for wall mounted dartboards.  (The same camera system might also provide networking capabilities, for games between players in different venues.)

In Germany, university students have devised an optical dart tracking system that determines where a dart will hit, then quickly moves the dartboard to place the Bull in front of the dart.  If their system can track the flight of a dart that accurately, then it could probably also simply display the score on a fixed dartboard.

Given the current level of innovation in optical-recognition and other remote sensors, applying such technology to darts seems so obvious it is surprising such a system has not already reached the market.

An optical scoring system would be completely independent of the dartboard, eliminating mechanical components, dedicated computers, etc.   With minor software changes, auto-scored darts games could be played on dartboards of any type or size.

Within a fairly short time, it is conceivable that much of the current distinction between Soft-tip and Steel-tip darts might disappear.  This would, of course, have unpredictable consequences for darters, dart leagues, and vendors.

Take the concept a little further: Instead of having individual dedicated darts machines, camera-based scoring systems might eventually become a networked feature of entertainment complexes (bars).

Note that the same type of optical-recognition scoring could monitor & score many games, not just darts.  Imagine the same system handling scoring for billiards, shuffleboard, etc.  Eventually, perhaps even table games such as backgammon & dominoes. (Consider that Las Vegas already has advanced video monitoring of gaming tables.)

Of course, such an innovation would result in major changes for bars, as well as the amusements industry.  At a minimum, there would be less need for individual electronic game devices.  Within a decade or so, dartboards, pool tables, shuffleboard games, etc. might all become “dumb” games, with no built-in electronics.  Instead, a network of cameras might monitor & score all of the different games.  (Perhaps even adding player fees to the players’ bar tabs!)

In addition to auto-scoring, such networked systems might automatically record & post players’ scores & accomplishments to league stats or web sites.  Tournaments, both local and remote-networked, would be easy to setup & run.

If this seems pie-in-the-sky, just think about the current capability of still-currently experimental devices such as Google Glass, which can monitor everything a person looks at, then identify people and objects in the field of view.

Technology is progressing very rapidly, and if optical-recognition (or other remote-sensor) scoring isn’t here today, it certainly will appear in the not-too-distant future.

Rick Osgood

This is Part 1 of a series of articles exploring the future of Darts.

Links to other sites with more on this topic:
Pub Pro: The Optically Scored Dartboard
Darts! For The Win
REDDIT: Optical Scoring DartboardFiber
Dartboard with Automated Optical Scoring System

Autoscoring Steel-tipped dartboard