Silicon Snack: On the Ball with Sports Tech
digital soccer ball
Dec 11, 2017

“You cannot be serious!” On June 22, 1981, on Wimbledon No. 1 Court, John McEnroe, former tennis champion and 1999 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, took issue with a debatable line call. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t until 2006 that the Hawk-Eye system—a series of cameras positioned to track the ball and estimate its trajectory—made its first tennis appearance at the U.S. Open, putting an end to arguments that “the chalk flew up!” Since then, technology has added a whole new strategic level to that and many other ballgames.

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Soccer is another hotbed of controversial “did the ball cross the line?” decisions. Two broad types of goal-line technologies (GLT) are now approved by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Football Association Board. One type includes systems like GoalControl and Hawk-Eye, using high-speed cameras to track the position and flight of the ball and detect whether or not it has crossed the goal line. Other systems use magnetic field-based technology. For example, CAIROS GLT uses a ball with an embedded sensor to detect the magnetic field generated by wires under the penalty box: the position of the ball is tracked by computer to detect when the ball crosses the goal line. A similar approach is the GoalRef system, which uses low-frequency magnetic fields to detect if a goal has been scored.

Protecting Players

Sadly, we’ve all seen news coverage of life-threatening sports-related head injuries. Shockbox produces helmet sensors for hockey, football, snow sports, and lacrosse that can reduce those risks. A wireless transmission to a smartphone indicates when a player has suffered an impact that could lead to a concussion. BlackBox Biometrics, whose sensors have been used by U.S. Special Forces, the Army, and SWAT teams, has developed Link IAS (Impact Assessment System), which sends an alert of a potential concussion-causing impact to a parent’s smartphone. Coaches can connect to a real-time dashboard to see the status on up to 128 players, and athletes themselves can tap a button to get an impact assessment via a green, yellow, or red LED indicator.

Fans Aren’t Left Out of the Game

For the armchair participant, technology now delivers a fan experience unimaginable just a few years ago. For example, Intel freeD Technology is developing an immersive experience for fans. Using multiple HD cameras positioned around a sporting venue and linked to servers, the system renders 3D images that enable fans to see particular plays from different angles as if they were right there on the field. Getting even more up close and personal, advanced sensors can be worn by athletes, not only to monitor their own performance real-time, but also to broadcast data to viewers.

Chalk It Up to Advancement

With technology being integrated with sports in so many new and different ways, it’s hard to believe that we ever relied on “the chalk flying up” to make key decisions in major championships. Tell that to today’s young sports enthusiast and they’d no doubt shake their heads and repeat McEnroe’s infamous tirade, “You cannot be serious!”


goalie making catch in digital world



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