Ball Tracking Technology Headed for the NFL - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ball Tracking Technology Headed for the NFL

It's been said that football is a game of inches. If that is the case, then pretty soon technology will help determine those inches exactly.

The idea behind ball tracking technology is not new. It's been commonly used in golf and tennis. Recent controversies at the World Cup caused an outcry for a goal line technology to be implemented for all future soccer events. Football could be the next logical step.

Dr. Priya Narasimhan is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of YinzCam, a mobile live streaming technology for sporting events. Along with a team of 15 researchers, Narasimhan designed a ball-tracking technology.

Narasimhan, who is a rapid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, said she and her team use sensors in the form of a small circuit board, which weighs approximately a half of an ounce and is placed inside the ball. On the board is a microprocessor, an antenna and a magnetic coil that allows it to be charged wirelessly.

The result is a ball that can be tracked no matter where it is on the field -- even under a scrum.  With 22 large football players on the field and a small ball, it's easy to see why this could come in handy. Narasimhan said three to four years of hard testing and research work went into the ball tracking technology.

"We've readied this ball to withstand the impact of an NFL game, especially with people beating up on it," Narasimhan said. "We have mechanical engineers in place to figure out the impact. We've had designers whose job was to design the technology to withstand the impact. Electrical engineers were put in place to make sure the technology did not circuit out."

The group also designed the technology for wide receiver gloves and football cleats. Despite their progress, Narasimhan said there is still more work to be done.

"We want to test it for various situations. Because you are dealing with wireless frequencies, we'd like to figure out the difference between closed dome and open air stadiums. What about snow vs. no snow? We want to answer all those questions," Narasimhan said.

Still, the very idea ball tracking technology could be on its way gets Narasimhan excited. Along with allowing officials to locate the ball's exact location rather than the standard guessing, the technology could be used as a training tool.

"I think there is tremendous value for coaches to use it for scouting and training purposes. Every single time you use it, it gives you hard data on ball location. So you can tell if you're throwing the ball in the right place or catching it the correct way. You use it and then tweak your throw, kick or catching style off the data," Narasimhan said.

Munich-based Cairos Technologies, is in talks with the National Football League to implement a microchip ball tracking technology, according to reports from Reuters. The technology would allow refs to locate the ball exactly, eliminating the need to make controversial calls. Cairos, which specializes in the 3-D localization of dynamic objects, has already developed a technology to track soccer balls. The company designed the soccer ball with Adidas.  

"In American Football you have the same situation, you need to cross a line and the ball needs to be over the line 100 percent and they (the players) are always above the ball (covering it)," Hanus said. Hanus and the company declined to further comment on potentially bringing their ball tracking technology to the gridiron.

The NFL did not respond to requests for comment.

Article Courtesy of International Business Times