NTT, the Japanese technology service corporation, has been using an enhanced technology offering for road cycling’s iconic Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes this year as one of its technology partners.

The corporation has said it would bring the Internet of Things (IoT), edge connectivity, and edge computing to the forefront of the event, integrating IoT and edge technologies to set up a digital twin of the race, which connects layers of live information to replicate all aspects of the event digitally.

The firm's commercial relationship with the Tour stretches back to 2019, while its association with the TDF Femmes began last year.

Using geolocation, the bicycles transmit a constant stream of latitude, longitude, and speed data over radio networks, which are transmitted to the end of the race, where a truck-based edge-computing device runs a version of NTT’s real-time analytics platform.

This year’s race also sees the integration of ChatGPT within NTT’s AI-driven digital human solution, which combines machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing, and conversational AI.

According to NTT, the digital human platform has been trained on relevant race information and can access detailed information to help fans.

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With the Tour de France coming to a close on July 23 and the Tour de France Femmes beginning on the same day, NTT’s director of program management Joan Kuhrmann explains its role in supporting the Tours in the past, present, and future.

How does NTT support the Tour in terms of technology?

As the official technology provider of the Tour de France for the past nine years, NTT has worked closely with Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the race organizers, to use data and insights to transform the iconic race.

Our partnership with ASO reflects the elite and exciting nature of the Tour through real-time, data-based products and services that revolutionize the management of the event. It’s an end-to-end showcase of everything we do: cloud, data analytics, machine learning and AI, edge computing, cybersecurity, IoT, managed and collaboration services, and smart venues.

By setting up a digital twin of the event, NTT provides ASO with full visibility of the race as it passes through some of the most remote areas of France. This platform also powers the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, now in its second year, bringing the power of data to the pinnacle of women’s cycling.

How has technology evolved the Tour de France over the years?

Continuous innovation has always been critical to our partnership with ASO. Together, we have introduced new and advanced technology solutions every year to ensure that the fans, wherever they are, feel like they are inside of the race and part of the action.

Starting in 2015 with the live tracking of cyclists, which enabled us to deliver real-time data to broadcasters, we’ve continuously explored ways of enhancing the fan experience and delivering greater business value to ASO.

We have grown the solution from data processing and real-time analytics to building an entire real-time environment with edge computing, AI, and machine learning capabilities that connect all parts of the race.

Looking to the future, what emerging technologies do you foresee having the most significant impact on the Tour de France?

Data is, and always will be, at the heart of the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. Capturing, processing, and analyzing this data quickly and accurately is essential to ensuring race operations run smoothly.

This year, we’ve bought a greater focus on the combined value of IoT, edge connectivity, and edge computing for real-time analytics. NTT will integrate IoT and edge to create the world's largest connected stadium by setting up a digital twin of the race, which connects layers of real-time information to replicate all aspects of the highly dynamic event digitally.

As our IoT and edge offerings continue to evolve, they will have a significant impact on future races and how they are run.

NTT has announced the adoption of ChatGPT for this year’s Tours “to further enhance the fan experience." How is it specifically being implemented and what can fans expect during the races?

This year, we’re excited to introduce a new AI-driven Digital Human experience at the Tour de France that combines machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing, and conversational AI. The digital human – also known as Marianne, has been trained on relevant race information and leverages ChatGPT to provide an interactive user experience that allows VIP guests to interact with Marianne and ask questions about the race, the venue, team information, who the favorite is to win, and more.

Named after Marianne Martin, the first woman who won the Tour de France Féminin for women in 1984, NTT’s Digital Human leverages ChatGPT and NTT’s real-time analytics platform to enhance the fan experience.

With the trial of Marianne this year, we are constantly training and teaching her to respond to more and more questions. Looking ahead, we see more opportunities to integrate Marianne across the TdF village and potentially the TdF app. Beyond race information, we may see her provide navigational information such as where to get food or where the nearest restroom is, making her the go-to AI companion for the best possible Tour de France experience.

Are there any concerns about adopting ChatGPT so early when there have been reports of inaccuracies within the technology?

Our digital human Marianne provides race insights and background information on the TdF. We are aware of the inaccuracies of information available in the WWW, which is being leveraged by ChatGPT. Hence, we have implemented a middleware that excludes certain data sources and we have added other sources, such as the website. Before Marianne leverages ChatGPT, she is searching for information from prioritized data sources.

Do you have any projects in development at the moment with the Tour?

We continue to work with ASO to improve and further innovate our technology solution, race operations, the fan experience, and the stories we tell.

Our trial of Marianne is a good example that represents not only the evolution of the fan experience but also what can be accomplished through the power of real-time data analytics and edge technology. You can be sure to see new and exciting advancements in the years to come.

Can you highlight any notable success stories or achievements from NTT’s technological contributions to the Tour de France?

The initial aim of the partnership between ASO and NTT was to revolutionize how fans interacted with the Tour de France both at the roadside and at home.

Between 2015 and 2023, we have grown and evolved the solution from data processing and real-time analytics to building an entire real-time environment with edge computing, AI, and ML capabilities that connect all parts of the race.

In 2021, the race was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic meaning a virtual experience for those who could not physically be there was more important than ever.

NTT introduced a host of new experiences and services designed to help fans get closer to the action. Using IoT, edge computing, cloud and AI, and ML capabilities, NTT created a digital twin of the race, mapping against a geo-location model of each stage. This enabled real-time visibility into key locations and assets, Covid-19 contact tracing, and in-the-moment updates of race times.

Offering detailed visualizations of the race as it happened, this largest connected stadium meant fans were more informed and more engaged. Moreover, in 2020 we leveraged our platforms to support the Virtual Tour de France when the physical event was delayed because of COVID-19. We introduced an augmented reality application, tapped into the collective capabilities of our global team with a Tour de France Hackfest, and supported the execution of the Tour with a team distributed across five continents.

Has NTT transferred any technological advancements from the Tour to other areas of your business?

The TDF is an important and strategic showcase for us as we are using all of NTT’s capabilities. NTT demonstrates its ability to support clients across all industry verticals, whether it's leveraging data analytics, providing smart connectivity solutions, driving digital transformation, ensuring cybersecurity, or fostering innovation through collaboration, NTT's partnership with A.S.O. serves as a powerful case study for how NTT can effectively support clients in diverse industries, helping them thrive in the digital age.

For example, digital twin technology in the manufacturing industry or production plants, human digital twins in the healthcare space, or edge computing and IoT in the automotive industry.

At NTT, we continuously work on making advances in all areas of technology and innovation as one of our top business priorities. As we’ve seen in our recent CX-EX report, for example, AI is making big inroads in supporting humans in the CX space.

Our 2023 EaaS report also highlights how edge adopters are experiencing the real benefit of edge, right now, by bringing data intelligence, security, and high performance closer to where they're needed.