Why will the high-tech World Cup ball change soccer?

Did you know? The new ball being used at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is packed with new technologies, enabling the capture of vast amounts of data in real time. Find out how Big Data will transform the world of sport, starting with this global event…

When the 2022 World Cup kicked off in Qatar on November 20, most of us thought we were watching a soccer match like any other.

However, in reality, the balls used throughout the tournament carry numerous cutting-edge technologies. Never before in the history of sport have so many technologies been used!

This bullet contains a sensor which collects spatial positioning data in real time. This is the first time such a ball-tracking mechanism has been used in a World Cup.

This system is combined with optical tracking toolsto make VAR (video refereeing) and offside assessment software more accurate than ever before.

For a long time now, the world of technology has been seeking to to combine these two forms of tracking. FIFA’s use of the ball-integrated sensor will be the first public test in real-life conditions.

The culmination of a cycle and the start of a new era

The configuration deployed in Qatar represents the culmination of a long technological processbut also the beginning of a new era.

From years of research and testing were necessary to achieve this goal. For example, the sensor integrated into the ball was developed and tested over a period of six years before receiving FIFA certification.

However, thanks to highlighted by this planetary eventThese new technologies will rapidly become more widely available, and a host of new use cases are likely to emerge.

A balloon equipped with Big Data sensors

For the 2022 World Cup, this sensor technology is being used to a “semi-automated offside” program. This system relies heavily on artificial intelligence functionalities, but still requires human intervention.

This device integrated into each balloon is a designed by KINEXON a major player in performance monitoring for several sports.

L’accessory weighs 14 gramsand actually contains two separate sensors operating simultaneously. The first is a UWB (ultra-wideband) sensor offering more precise positional data than GPS or Bluetooth. It is also capable of transmitting data in real time to constantly monitor the ball’s position.

The second sensor is an IMU (inertial measurement unit) to detect the nuanced movements of an object in space. Together, these two sensors make it possible to track both the position of an object and its granular motion in three dimensions.

Every time the ball is kicked or thrown, the system captures its movements at 500 frames per second. The data is sent in real time from the sensors to a local positioning system (LPS).

This involves a network of antennas installed around the pitch, capable of receiving and storing data for immediate use. When the ball goes out of bounds during play and a new ball is thrown to replace it, the Kinexon backend system automatically changes tracking without human intervention.

The KINEXON device is supported in the ball by a suspension technology supplied by Adidas. This technology is designed to house the sensor at the central inner point of the ball and keep it safely in that location.

In parallel, 12 Hawk-Eye optical tracking cameras are positioned around the stadium. This system is already widely used in the world of tennis. The cameras track the ball and each player with 50 captures per second. In all, 29 separate body points are tracked, including the knees.

AI to detect offside automatically

By combining these two data sources, the arbitrators can make better decisions more quickly. This is a priority for FIFA.

As Nicolas Evans, Director of Research at FIFA Technology Innovation, explained at the World Cup 2018 debriefthe organization realized that the main area for improvement identified was offside decision-making.

Data from the KINEXON and Hawk-Eye devices are transmitted to artificial intelligence softwaredesigned to generate automated offside alerts for referees. This saves precious time compared with manual video analysis.

In addition, the software also generates 3D renderings spatial data. These are superimposed on TV broadcasts and stadium screens to give fans a direct insight into how decisions are made.

Can we really rely on Big Data for refereeing?

Can we really trust these technologies? Is there a risk of an erroneous decision being made based on distorted data? A shift of a few millimeters in the position detected by the sensors could lead to a serious arbitration error…

However, the KINEXON system offers a data refresh rate of 500 Hz. This is the number of times the screen is capable of displaying a new image every second. In comparison, most modern HD displays have a refresh rate of 50 Hz.

Therefore, the deviation from actual positioning does not exceed two milliseconds. In addition, the use of a PTP clock allows synchronization between KINEXON and Hawk-Eye data.

In order to test each component of the system, FIFA conducted tests in both live and controlled environments. The Quality Program requires a “ground truth testing” format for electronic performance test systems.

This approach uses a minimum of 36 Vicon motion capture camerascombined with reflective markers placed on the ball and each player for extremely precise detection.

As the players and the ball move across the test field, the Vicon cameras and the KINEXON / Hawk-Eye system are launched simultaneously. The researchers compare their performance to assess their accuracy. Other tools are used to enhance test reliability, such as a laser to detect events such as high-speed sprinting.

In parallel, another test verifies the addition of the collector to the balloon is imperceptible for the players. This is essential if players are to avoid blaming the ball for a missed penalty…

Adidas took charge of this test, using two methods. The first was to let the players test the ball without knowing itin several clubs in Spain, Germany and England.

The second technique used was a mechanical ball launcher. Laboratory devices were programmed to hit the ball at different speeds and in different directions. High-speed cameras then evaluated the ball’s trajectory to ensure that it was not altered by the sensor. These tests proved conclusive.

In addition, an early version of the equipped with KINEXON sensors had been tested in 2018 in Germany’s fourth division to provide real-time data for television. The Hawk-Eye camera was also tested during Champions League group matches earlier this season.

Of course, zero risk does not exist. Equipment may malfunction, and this possibility remains unavoidable.

Towards a revolution in the world of sports

The use of these technologies for the 2022 World Cup is a major the surface of possibilities offered. In the near future, the combination of ball sensors and optical tracking could become popular in all sports.

This is already happening with the technology of Second Spectrum follow-up in the NBAand Hawk-Eye cameras in tennis. Teams and players could then use this data for tactical analysis.

TV channels could offer viewers visualizations, and fans could access a multitude of impossible statistics to capture until now.

In early 2022, the Kinexon sensor was used in the Portuguese Premier League relegation match alongside sensors integrated into the players’ shirts to track their movements.

In total, more than 300 different metrics have been collected in different categories. These include technical data such as shooting speed or time of possession, but also performance data such as sprints and dribbling speed, or tactical data such as space control or ball loss.

The potential applications for all this data are theoretically unlimited. In particular, it could be used to to create virtual worlds or to add information on player performance in augmented reality.

You could also imagine being able to view a match from the point of view of the player of your choice, for example through the eyes of Kylian Mbappe. In conclusion, even if Big Data was already being used in soccer, these new high-tech tracking systems are ushering in a revolution in the world of sports…

While we wait for the democratization of these technologies, enjoy free streaming of World Cup 2022 matches. Discover the craziest data from this great tournament, and don’t forget to check out the AI predictions to win your bets!

Al Hilm: a second ball unveiled for the semi-final

Just before the Argentina-Croatia semi-final, Adidas and FIFA have unveiled the ball that will be used for the final matches of the World Cup: “Al Hilm”, meaning “the dream” in Arabic.

This balle replaces Al Rihla for the two semi-finals, the small final and the final. The technology and design remain virtually identical, with sensors enabling referees to make better and faster decisions.

Constituted water-based inks and adhesives environmentally friendly, Al Hilm features a gold base with red accents and triangular motifs inspired by the deserts around Doha. It also features the colors of the World Cup trophy and the motifs of the Qatari flag.

According to Adidas soccer general manager Nick Craggs, ” Al Hilm highlights the power of sport and soccer to bring the world together. Millions of people will be connected from virtually every country in the world, united by their passion for the game. We wish all the teams involved in the final stages of the tournament the very best of luck as they compete on the biggest stage soccer has to offer. “.

While Argentina have qualified for the final France triumphed over Croatia to reach the semi-final against Morocco. Discover the secrets of this African team that defies the odds…