FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Dowsett details the high tech used on the pitch at the World Cup:
Throughout the tournament, match balls will contain a sensor that collects spatial positioning data in real time – the first World Cup to use such a ball tracking mechanism. This, combined with existing optical tracking tools, will make VARs (Video Assistant Referees) and programs such as offside reviews more accurate and streamlined than ever before. The combination of these two forms of tracking has long been something of a holy grail in tech circles, and FIFA’s use of the ball catcher in particular will serve as a very public test over the next four weeks.
Each ball has two technologies that iPhone users are familiar with: an accelerometer and an Ultra Wideband chip (think U1). Combined with optical technology (think line calls in most high-level tennis tournaments), match officials have detailed information on the location and trajectory of the ball at all times. The chips record and transmit data at a rate of 500 frames per second, which allows much greater precision than even a television camera broadcasting at 50 or 60 frames per second. A machine-learning algorithm flags potential calls (mostly offside) for human managers to review.
It’s exciting to see this because I can think of a few sports (NFL football being the most important, since so many of its rules involve the ball breaking an invisible plane) that could be vastly improved by technology that tells us where the ball is located, precisely, at all times.