Blinking rocks 'hog' spotlight

STEVE GREEN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

If you're watching the Scott Tournament of Hearts and think you detect little flashing lights on the rocks, you're not seeing things.

The stones do indeed have small red and green lights near the base of the handle, all part of new technology to make hog-line violations instantly recognizable and indisputable.

It's due to the efforts of Londoner Kevin Ackerman and three other electrical engineering students -- Jarret Adam, Johanna Koch and Jason Smith -- at the University of Saskatchewan. They began work on the project six years ago at the suggestion of their professor, Eric Salt.

"Basically, it was a rock detector," said Ackerman, who moved to London in November 2004 and now works for JMP Engineering. "We were thinking that maybe it could give the hog-line judge a better idea of where the rock really was when the player released."

As a competitive player himself -- he played in the 1998 Canadian junior championship for Saskatchewan and played this season as lead for Kirk Ziola of Ilderton -- Ackerman knows all about hog-line violations.

"You were furious when a judge pulled a rock and every curler has way too much pride to admit they just might have been over," he said. "I've seen people really get on the officials and those calls are way too difficult to call accurately. Our goal was to make something you just can't argue with."

Once the students showed their prototype would work, they met with Neil Houston, a former Canadian and world champion and now manager of championship services and programs for the Canadian Curling Association. After some modifications and some manufacturing help from a firm called Startco Engineering, the devices were first used at the 2003 Continental Cup.

They have been used at every national and world championship since, taking away one of the game's more contentious aspects.

Players must release the stone before its leading edge hits the near hog line. But with curlers sliding farther out from the hack and hanging on to the rock as long as possible, it was inevitable that they'd start crossing the line more frequently.

That led to the introduction of on-ice hog-line officials, but also the element of human error. That was particularly visible at the 1986 Brier in Kitchener-Waterloo, when Saskatchewan's Lyle Muyres had several rocks pulled in his first game, despite video evidence clearing him.


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