Football equipment technology aims to make the game fairer and safer


In the years to come, the National Football League looks set to launch new technology blitzes that will make the game fairer and safer.

Among the technologies most likely to hit the pitch soon are wireless sensors in the ball and in player gear. These technologies will resolve difficult referees’ calls, facilitate training and improve safety. New helmets are also expected to better protect players from injury.

Off the pitch, advanced analyzes that reveal statistical wisdom or the craziness of certain play calls could already subtly change the game of American football.

The nfl embrace technology will continue to benefit the game and its fans, said Priya Narasimhan. She is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and heads the Football Engineering Research Group, the only university program of its kind.

“All [the NFL does] is incredibly progressive without spoiling the spontaneity and fun of the game, ”said Narasimhan,“ because you don’t want technology getting in your way. “

A game of thumbs

Perhaps the most agonizing and controversial games in football are the short-range crushes of the defensive and offensive lines as the ball carrier tries to pull off a first down or “cross the plane” from the goal line for. a touchdown.

These nail rodents usually require referees (often with the help of instant repeat) to try to guess where the hell the ball is in the middle of a bubbling heap of giant men.

The solution: a sensor in the ball that registers when it has actually crossed the first down or the goal line.

At least two companies, Cairos Technologies in Germany and YinzCam, a spin-off from the Carnegie Mellon University program, have developed the necessary technology.

The Cairo Method – so far perfected just for football – consists of passing a thin electric cable under the goal line and within the framework of the goal which generates a magnetic field. A lightweight sensor (or sensors) in the bale detects when a certain amount of bale has passed this defined line.

In soccer, the entire 8.7 inch (22 centimeter) ball must cross the line to score a goal. Thus, the sensor reports a score when it is 4.3 inches (11 centimeters) beyond the line, indicating that the entire ball is in it, explained Oliver Braun, director of marketing and communications at Cairos.

In football, however, only part of the oblong ball needs to cross the plane (or be out of bounds), and the first lines can appear anywhere on the playing field.

So instead of wiring the entire pitch, YinzCam’s approach places base stations along the sidelines that pick up a signal from the football sensor. A gyroscope in the center of the ball also conveys precise knowledge of the orientation of pigskin in 3D space in real time.

Whether the long axis is almost vertical in a placed kick, or horizontal in a ball pass from a quarterback, or anywhere in between (crossing the goal line), the referees will know.

The YinzCam sensor weighs only half an ounce, lasts half an hour, and can be recharged wirelessly viainductive load – the same technology that powers an electric toothbrush. The referees frequently exchanged balls containing sensors for loaded balls. This shouldn’t disrupt the game as soccer balls come in and out of the game now anyway.

Although the NFL has not made any official statement on the kick-off of the technology, Ray Anderson, NFL executive vice president of operations, told TechNewsDaily, “It’s going to happen. It’s happening. “

Sensors everywhere

This remote sensing technology could revolutionize more than just difficult calls, said Narasimhan, founder and CEO of YinzCam. The company has also created pressure sensors to be placed in the gloves or the protections of the players. These “smart” gloves can sense how a catcher catches a pass, for example, or how a running back cradles the ball while dodging and diving into traffic on the grill.

These sensors could improve training and match ratings, Narasimhan said, at all levels of football, from high school to pros.

In the receiver’s case, “the coaches say you’re supposed to catch the ball with your fingertips, not your thumbs,” Narasimhan said. “After I drop a pass, a guy will come back to the sidelines and say, ‘I swear it wasn’t my thumbs. “” With the gloves on, coaches, players, scouts and even parents of Pee-Wee League players will have answers, and the catcher can work on improving his mechanics as needed.

Futuristic helmets

Another application of the sensors is to assess blows to the heads of players that could result in concussions. Although mainly in the research phase, helmets equipped with accelerometer are already sending data on the intensity of the hits to medical staff that may indicate the possibility of a concussion.

Research has suggested that these redesigned helmets, made by Riddell, the NFL’s official helmet supplier, could reduce high school concussion events by a third.

However, individual susceptibility to concussions varies widely, so that a 100% accurate “concussion sensor” remains science fiction for now.

The future of protective helmets in the NFL could lie in unconventional, foam-free padding, like the adaptive air-cell shocks in Xenith’s new X-1 helmet. The air enters and leaves these cells which adapt to impacts; a harder hit generates more air pressure, and therefore more stiffening to secure a player’s head.

Vin Ferrara, CEO of Xenith, compared the effect of pushing hard on a bicycle pump and getting more resistance than pushing it down gently.

Only a few NFL players wore the X-1 helmet last year, but this season at least 20 will, Ferrara said, and more adoption is on the horizon.

Computerized play-call

As with many other facets of life, computers will change greatly how football is played, at least from the point of view of the call to play.

Software called Zeus, although developed nearly a decade ago, appears to be gaining traction now in the NFL, according to one of its creators, Frank Frigo.

Zeus simulates hundreds of thousands of game results based on two game choices, for example, or can have two customizable teams play a million simulated games in the span of a minute.

Information gleaned from Zeus includes that NFL coaches are calling the games way too conservative. For example, attempting the shot in the fourth and short often increases the odds of ultimately winning on a punt or settling for a basket, and back kicks should also be attempted more often.

Neither team has used, or under current rules, would be allowed to use Zeus to make instant play calls on match day. One team – Frigo can’t say who – experimented with Zeus off the pitch last season.

The pre-game cues and post-game setback offered by the program could usher in more aggressive strategies, Frigo said, if coaches could stand the statistical reality.

“You are not going to see [Zeus or simulators like it] during the game anytime soon, ”Frigo said. But Zeus-approved bullish gambling calls are on the rise, Frigo said.

Gutsy’s calls last season by head coaches Sean Payton of the Super Bowl champions of the New Orleans Saints and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reveal the growing awareness that in the NFL, fortune (and technology) often rewards the daring.

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