A system of 14 high-speed cameras operating at up to 500 frames a second to capture a three-dimensional position of the ball.
Nowadays, it's hard to tell the jocks from the geeks. Athletes capitalize on advances from engineering, material science, biomechanics, communication and information technologies to maximize training and performance. And brainiacs develop technologies that are transforming every aspect of sport, including coaching, judging, even the design of sports arenas and spectator experience. To date, most advances in sports technology have been in material science and design. Aerospace engineer Kim B. Blair, founder of the Sports Innovation Group LLC, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks the playbook is changing. "We've hit a plateau," he says. "The next big thing is the information revolution." These advances will move all developments into the computer era, where everything will be tracked, monitored, optimized, refined and disseminated in ways that athletes can't possibly imagine. Here, in alphabetical order, is our list of 10 technologies that are changing the way sports are practiced, played, scored and watched:
1. Ingestible Computers
Heat exhaustion is the second-leading cause of death in athletes. Until now, core body temperature has been monitored through observation, but athletes can ignore signs of heat exhaustion and trainers may be too far away to make accurate observations. A "thermometer pill" may save lives. Initially developed by NASA and Johns Hopkins University to monitor astronauts from space, the pill contains a quartz crystal sensor and micro-battery wrapped in silicon. Once swallowed, a sensor transmits temperature and heart rate data to the trainer as it travels through the gastrointestinal tract. Athletes in field and track, auto racing, football, hockey, cycling and soccer have used a commercial spin-off based on NASA's version.
2. Wearable Computers
The best sports innovation, ever? Synthetic fibers that wick moisture, dry fast, and are anti-microbial and water- or wind- resistant: sweat-soaked cotton is so '70s. Perhaps the next best thing? "Smart" clothing that uses embedded microscopic sensors and wireless networks to monitor athletes' heart rate, body temperature, hydration and more. Applications extend far beyond the sports arena. Medical and military technicians are developing patient and soldier models to record and transmit real-time biometrics from blood pressure to a bullet wound, from any location.
Science is helping athletes set new records, but we lag far behind the quickest and strongest species on the planet. Increasingly, engineers are turning to nature for inspiration, an approach known as biomimicry. Textured fabrics inspired by dermal denticles or "toothlike" projections found on sharkskin were one of the many innovations that may have helped Michael Phelps and others dress for gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In another example, scientists have developed materials that increase in adhesive strength while in motion -- just like the feet of geckos. Coming soon, gecko-inspired nonskid grips and climbing shoes.
Alvin Quiambao, AFOSR
4. Carbon Nanotechnology
The secret to a material's strength lies in the properties of the atomic bonds connecting one atom to another. Carbon atoms have extremely strong bonds. Using nanotechnology, scientists manipulate carbon's atomic structure to form hollow, carbon-based tubes that are super small (approximately 100,000 times thinner than a human hair), super light and stronger than steel. Researchers at the University of Texas' Nanotech Institute have developed artificial muscles from carbon nanotubes that contract 30,000 percent per second (human muscles contract around 20 percent per second). They can operate at extreme temperatures, which makes them especially attractive for space applications and is one reason why the Air Force Office of Scientific Research is has teamed up in this area. So far, there are no human applications, but a "smart skin," on an aircraft would have the ability to change appearance in situations of danger.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
5. Computational Fluid Dynamics
Thanks to supercomputers, the subfield of physics that focuses on the movement of air, water or gasses called computational fluid dynamics is indispensable to the design of anything that moves -- including cars, oars, bicycles, helmets and swimsuits -- even human athletes. Using 3-D body scanners, computers, visualization and fluid dynamics software, engineers can analyze skin friction. "In the last five years aerodynamic technology has become very prevalent in the development of equipment and clothing for speed-based sports," says Blair. "In competitive cycling, bikers use 90 percent of their power to overcome wind. Even a 5 percent improvement in drag can be the difference between a podium and no podium." Speedo's AQUALAB used computerized scans of hundreds of athletes to pin-point areas of high friction on the athlete's body. With this information, swimsuit designers were able to position low-friction fabric in the right locations to reduce drag.
AP Photo/Philip Scott Andrews
6. Digital Imaging and Video
It's impossible to imagine a multibillion-dollar global sports industry without television to play (and replay) stunning moments, show us legends in the making -- and generate advertising revenue. And media technology has, in turn, shaped sports. Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer of ESPN's X Games and Winter X Games, says miniature, wireless and handheld digital cameras that "give viewers unbelievable proximity, put them in the action and take them just about any place so that they can see just about anything" have transformed the sports-viewing experience. Others might argue that these technologies have had a more profound impact, creating a fan base and popularizing new sports and new superstars, seemingly overnight. The United States Olympic Committee and Comcast are partnering to launch an Olympic sports cable channel, while NBC, which won the bid to broadcast the Olympics, has its own 24-hour sports channel, Universal Sports.
7. Information Technologies
Across industries, the trend is toward mobile, rich and instant data. Sports are no exception. Mix radio frequency identification tags, global positioning system devices, remote cameras and broadband networks, and then synchronize and display and what do you get? More information than you'll want to know, guaranteed. Sounds big league, but information technology is infusing sports at all levels. "The sports world is on the cusp of changing into a whole new paradigm because of information technologies," says 94 Fifty's CEO and founder, Mike Crowley. 94Fifty's system captures up to 6,000 pieces of information a second and is designed to be embedded in a moving object like a basketball, soccer ball or hockey puck. Once collected, the data is uploaded to an off-site server and analyzed in seconds. Want to know how your top player is performing compared to last month or year? That's possible. So is comparing one athlete to other athletes her age, across the country. When scores are posted, kids treat it like a video game and become more competitive, reports Crowley. He thinks his system will motivate kids to work on skills they'll need to become great athletes.
8. Reactive Materials
High-speed sports put athletes at risk. Until recently, protective clothing that could absorb impact was often bulky and restrictive. That's changing with the development of materials such as U.K.-based d30 and Dow Corning's Active Protection System materials. Both are made from materials that flex and move with a body in action but immediately harden upon impact. Researchers at the University of Delaware have embedded materials with nanoparticles that become instantly rigid as soon as a kinetic energy threshold is crossed. That can come in handy for athletes, who could seriously hurt themselves if they fell and for people in the military or in law enforcement, who come into bodily harm unexpectedly on the job. And as a benefit, many of these products are washable. Recent applications include gear for downhill skiers and dirt bike racers, as well as ballet shoes, soccer balls, shorts for equestrians, and protective gear for soldiers and law enforcement agents.
AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Robots offer scientists many benefits. They don't complain, get sick, charge overtime or take vacation. And they can be programmed to repeat the same motion over and over. Commonly used in automobile and other manufacturing settings, robots programmed to simulate sports movements such as tennis or golf swings can help engineers test equipment and surfaces. Robots can even be programmed to sweat. Using robots, researchers can do more tests in less time, under highly controlled settings. A team of researchers from Kanazawa University in Japan has developed an experimental system using a skiing robot to investigate the effects of joint motions on ski turns. Such a system could ultimately serve as a model to help skiers improve their own movements. And a team from the the University of Tokyo has developed two robots, one that can pitch and one that can bat, to study the physics of baseball.
10. Tool-less Manufacturing
Henry Ford's early customers could have any color car, so long as it was black. In the marketplace, the greatest barrier to choice is cost. Elite athletes can drop thousands of dollars on custom-fit equipment, but for most players, it's just a dream. Now, affordable, in-store diagnostics, including 3-D body scanners that analyze body geometry and kinematics, coupled with "tool-less" or direct digital manufacturing in place of molded dies or templates, are making custom-fit a true possibility. University research labs are helping to make the technology a reality. Scientists at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology are using 3D body scanners that image about 300,000 points on the body to develop virtual try-on systems and clothes that can be custom-made on the spot. Caine is guardedly optimistic: "This will happen, but I'm not sure when."
Billions of soccer fans across the globe cheered the opening match of the World Cup with Brazil's 3-1 victory over Croatia Thursday night.
In future matches, star players such as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil's Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior will be firmly in the spotlight, but another, unseen player will also be grabbing attention.
For the first time, tournament organizers have turned to goal line technology in an attempt to end the controversial goal line calls which have tainted World Cup history. Up to now, referees and their two linesmen assistants have been forced to make split-second decisions about whether a goal has crossed the goal line or not, often without a clear view of the actual situation. The latest technology, however, should put an end to blown calls.
The GoalControl-4D technology uses 14 high-speed cameras operating at up to 500 frames a second to capture a three-dimensional position of the ball. Each goal has seven cameras trained on it at all times. Fixed to a high point in the stadium, such as the roof, two cameras are at the halfway line, another two are placed between halfway and the goal line and another camera is located behind the goal.
The cameras are linked via fiber-optic cable to an image processing computer that monitors the movements of every object on the pitch. Specially-built detection software is used to filter out players and the referee. Thanks to the flood of information from the cameras, the system can monitor the ball's position based on x,y and z coordinates and report its three-dimensional position anywhere on the field. Crucially for under-pressure referees, this position is monitored both when the ball is on the ground and when it’s in the air.
Within a second of the ball crossing the goal line, the system sends a message to the referee's watch, which also vibrates. The system's accurate to within a fifth of an inch, according to manufacturer GoalControl.
GoalControl spokesman Rolf Dittrich is confident that the company’s goal line technology will deliver during soccer’s showpiece, highlighting its success at two tournaments in 2013. “We have no doubts about anything,” he said. “It was perfect in the Confederations Cup last year and in the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.”
The call of “goal” or “no goal” can be a tough one for referees, particularly when the goalmouth is crowded with players or when a shot has cannoned off another part of the goal, as famously happened in the last World Cup. With England trailing Germany 2-1 in a second round game, a blistering shot from England midfielder Frank Lampard ricocheted off the crossbar and landed over the goal line before bouncing out of the goal. The referee, confused by the fierce speed of the ball and its trajectory when it bounced back into play, did not award the goal. England went on to lose the game 4-1.
From early pig bladders to high-tech wonders, the colorful sphere that makes soccer possible has seen plenty of changes over the course of centuries.Adidas
Ironically, Germany was itself the victim of a controversial call in the 1966 World Cup final against England when Geoff Hurst's shot hit the underside of the crossbar and rebounded off the goal line. In that instance, however, the goal was awarded to England, although the incident remains hotly debated to this day.
Four companies initially vied to provide the coveted goal line technology for the Brazil World Cup. The sport’s governing body FIFA ultimately chose GoalControl over rivals GoalRef and Cairos Technologies whose systems required a sensor within the ball.
“The big advantage of the camera-based systems are that you don’t need modifications of the ball or the pitch,” said Dittrich.
GoalControl also beat out another camera-based system, Hawk-Eye, built by Sony-owned Hawk-Eye Innovations. With Hawk-Eye already widely-used in tennis, there were some raised eyebrows when GoalControl-4D was picked over its better-known competitor.
FIFA has not yet responded to FoxNews.com’s request for comment on this story and provided scant competitive detail last October when it announced GoalControl’s World Cup debut. The organization, however, issued a more detailed statement in April 2013 when it chose the German company over its rivals to support last summer’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, effectively a technology testing ground for the World Cup.
“The final decision was based on criteria relating more specifically to the tournaments in Brazil, including the company’s ability to adapt to local conditions and the compatibility of each GLT system in relation to FIFA match operations.” The competing bids were also judged on cost and project management factors such as staffing and time schedules for installation, according to FIFA.
The use of GoalControl-4D marks a major shift for soccer, which has typically avoided the use of on-field technology amidst fears that it will detract from the sport’s spontaneity and its continuous flow.
Dittrich, however, believes that technology will help focus fans’ attention on the most important aspect of the sport, citing a goal line controversy in the recent German cup final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. “Nobody was talking about the game, everybody was talking about the referee,” he said.