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Sports Tech Shoutouts 2022 05

In this edition of shoutouts, we talk about the World Cup Official Match Ball and how it is embedded with technology for the first time. There's also a GPS guidance module for athletes with a visual impairment, a sports app that lets scorekeepers track basketball match stats with their voice and a "video game" that helps soccer players train their decision making skills. Read more below.

Howdy! Welcome to the 5th edition of our Sports Tech Shoutouts for 2022. If you work in technology or follow closely to the happenings in tech, you might have heard of Web 3.0 and how it will disrupt different industries. To be honest, I am still trying to figure out the workings of Web 3.0 and how it will benefit sports technology or the usual stuff discussed on this site. From what I understand, the technology will enable users to have better control of their own data and athletes could have more secure and perhaps innovative means of getting funded/supported. There’s definitely a lot more to it and there are some interesting articles here – link, and here – link, to explore the topic a bit more.

Coming back to our shoutouts, the World Cup 2022 is happening really soon and adidas is once again the provider of the official match ball. What’s different is that the official match ball will be a smart and connected ball. We also cover an app that helps basketball scorekeepers collect stats just using their voice, a cognitive training software for soccer teams and a GPS tool that guides runners with a visual impairment. Let’s dive into it!

The Next World Cup Official Match Ball Is a Connected Smart Ball

adidas has been designing and making the official match ball for the FIFA World Cup since 1970. If we include this year’s World Cup (2022), that will be a total of 14 games (and match ball designs). From 1970 to 2002, adidas had stuck to a 32 panels construction, with a couple of changes to material selection, panel shape and design of the panels. Then 2006 saw a design shift to 14 panels, followed by 8 panels in 2010 and 6 panels in 2014 and 2018. Throughout those periods, adidas had also further improved the quality and aerodynamics of the ball through innovations in material and surface texture. But with the 2022 World Cup, adidas has taken a huge leap forward not just with the panel construction (20 panels) but also incorporating sensors into the ball.

The official match ball with embedded technology

The Al Rihla can capture precise ball data which will be sent to Video Match Officials in real-time. The ball data, combined with real-time player position data from FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology (with 12 cameras) will automatically alert offside incidents allowing video match officials to quickly review and confirm the decision and inform the on-field referee. The data points will also be used to generate a 3D animation reflecting the exact positions of the players’ limbs and it can be shown in the best perspective of the offside situation.

3D Animation of Offside Situation (Source: FIFA)

The (internal) design of the Al Rihla reminds us of the adidas miCoach smart ball. A Suspension System consisting of a set of supports, holds the sensor core securely in the middle of the ball. Meanwhile the battery of the sensor/electronics can be charged wirelessly by induction. The IMU in the sensor core captures motion data at 500Hz (500 times per second), which is quite high compared to the typical sensors in consumer devices that does 100Hz. The connected ball technology was developed in close collaboration with FIFA and Kinexon who has developed various sports technologies for live player and ball tracking. The connected ball as well as the semi-automated offside technology has been tested rigorously in a number of test events and live FIFA tournaments including the FIFA Arab Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Ongoing tests are being conducted to ensure that the technology can be successfully implemented at the upcoming World Cup event. Read more about the connected ball here (link) or check out the video discussing the technology that will be used in the 2022 World Cup:

Nordic Evolution Developed A Guidance Module To Keep Visually Impaired Runners On The Right Track

Nordic Evolution Guidance Module with Earphones.

We have previously covered various technologies that assist runners who are visually impaired. In essence, we discussed the technologies that will allow a visually impaired runner to run on their own without another person running with them as a guide. Quite often, the technologies involve either GPS tracking or a Local position tracking system or cameras with cellular connectivity allowing remote assistance. Recently we came across another company based in Sweden that has also developed a mobile solution that keeps visually impaired athletes on the right path. Nordic Evolution’s solution to guiding the athletes is a combination of a GPS-based Guidance Module and a pair of wireless earphones.

Custom audio signals help steer the athlete to stay on the right path

How it works is:

  1. The user first creates a digital path they would like to follow. It can be created by physically going through the path and recording the GPS points with the Guidance Module. Or it can be mapped out digitally on their computer interface.
  2. Custom audio signals can be created to guide the user along the created path. The audio signals can provide indication of when the user veers to the left or to the right. It can also provide feedback on distances, information about elevation or places of interest or anything that helps the athlete.
  3. The Guidance Module should be strapped to the athlete’s head with a headband to allow for optimum GPS coverage and a wireless earphone or headphone is required to transmit the audio signals to the athlete.
Olle Axelsson (Nordic Evolution Founder) and Ida Östlund testing the ski tracks (source: link)

Some of the activities that they support include running, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, skating, cycling and even swimming. The Nordic Evolution guidance module is able to accurately track the athlete’s position up to 10 cm. This has been tested in the majority areas of Sweden. For athletes from other countries who are interested in their system, you should contact the team at Nordic Evolution to find out how they could work for you. They are also open to help clubs set up a custom system for their sports ground. Find out more on their website (link). You can also check out how this explainer video by Paralympian Fatmir Seremeti on how he runs with the Nordic Evolution Guidance Module:

GameChanger Allows Basketball Scorekeepers To Track The Game With Their Voice

GameChanger first developed apps for youth sports teams back in 2009. They started off with an iOS app for baseball and softball, and after they were acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods (in 2016), they developed more features that support communities and families involved in youth sports. Some of those developments include team management solutions, scorekeeping features, live streaming capabilities, and Android versions of their apps. Currently, they support a number of sports including Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Soccer, Lacrosse, Hockey, Football, Volleyball, Field Hockey, Rugby and Water Polo. One thing to note is that not all the sports have the same level or amount of features. A browse through the different sports on their website reveals that Baseball, Softball and Basketball are the key sports that have the most if not the full suite of features.

Some of the features in Baseball

Some of those (features) include:

  • Advanced scorekeeping tools
  • Full live video streaming features (scoreboard integration, GoPro and Mevo compatibility, audience control, etc)
  • Automatic clip generation
  • Live Animated GameStream (only Baseball and Softball)
  • Team management tools (view team & player stats, schedule, roster, communicate, etc)

More recently, the team at GameChanger has added voice scorekeeping for Basketball. This simple innovation allows the basketball scorekeeper to keep their eyes on the court instead of looking down on their device to tap and track the plays. There is a protocol to follow – basically, there are standard commands for the various plays and there is a structure/sequence to say it so the app easily recognises it and can accurately record it. GameChanger also provides a training guide for anyone who is new to basketball scorekeeping to quickly learn the ropes. Read more about the voice scorekeeping feature here: link, or check out their explainer video below:

IntelliGym Is Helping Soccer Players Develop Game Intelligence

Soccer Players going through a IntelliGym training session

IntelliGym (previously Applied Cognitive Engineering) has developed a unique cognitive training system that develops players’ (spatial) awareness and ability to make fast-paced decisions. At first glance, it looks like a simple video game and it may even seem like child’s play at the start. So how do we know it works? A study by VU Amsterdam who compared two groups of soccer players going through different training programs (one group using IntelliGym), found that the group that trained with IntelliGym had a performance score 27% higher than the other group. That is just from 10 sessions of doing the IntelliGym ‘games’. Another study conducted by German Sport University that evaluated the cognitive training system for football players had quite similar findings. Players from two elite football academies were split into two groups with one group doing the IntelliGym program while the other group did another form of computerised task. The outcome was the players who trained with IntelliGym improved their on-field tactical performance more than players who only watched soccer videos.

Chart from VU Amsterdam study (source: link)

How it started: The IntelliGym technology is based on a concept originally developed for Air Force pilots by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which has been studied by the Israeli Air Force and NASA. Researchers (from Technion, Israel Institute of Technology) found that pilot cadets who trained on land using a cognitive training tool, had a record improvement (greater than 30%) in actual flight performance. IntelliGym founder (Danny Danker) saw the similarities between sports decision making and pilots’ decision making and went on to develop a cognitive program for sports. The IntelliGym team started with a program for basketball back in 2005, and hockey in 2010. Then after receiving a grant in 2015 to develop and validate a program for soccer, they launched a version for soccer in 2017.

Screenshot of Intelligym Soccer

How it works (roughly): When a player starts a (30 minute) session, they might pick a specific area/skill/lesson to work on. The program looks like a spaceship game where the player controls a spaceship and tries to work with team-mates against an opposing team to score points like in a soccer game. The program is designed with various “modes”/”filters” to help a player focus on different skillsets including situational awareness, working memory, task switching, peripheral attention, and ultimately, decision making under pressure. Coaches can set personalised goals for each player and it is recommended that players go through two to three 30 minute sessions of cognitive training a week. More than that is considered overtraining and could lead to (mental) fatigue. The best way to really understand how it works is probably to contact IntelliGym for a demo, else you could also check out their intro video below:

 And that is our fifth edition of shoutouts for 2022. If you would like more information about any of the above, or you have some sports tech ideas you would like to chat to someone about, feel free to reach out or leave a comment below. If you enjoy our content, please do share it on social using the links below and make sure to subscribe to our blog here: link. As always, thanks for reading!

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