Ben Dowsett at FiveThirtyEight details the high technology being used on the field at the World Cup:
All tournament long, match balls will contain a sensor that collects spatial positioning data in real time — the first World Cup to employ such a ball-tracking mechanism. This, combined with existing optical tracking tools, will make VAR (video assistant referees) and programs like offside reviews more accurate and streamlined than they’ve ever been. Combining these two forms of tracking has long been a holy grail of sorts in technology circles, and FIFA’s use of the ball sensor in particular will serve as a highly public test case over the next four weeks.
Every ball has two bits of technology that iPhone users will be familiar with: an accelerometer and an Ultra Wideband (think U1) chip. Combined with optical tech (think of the line calls at most high-level tennis tournaments), match officials1 have detailed information about the location and trajectory of the ball at all times. The chips are recording and transmitting data at a rate of 500 frames per second, allowing far more precision than even a TV camera broadcasting at 50 or 60 frames per second. A machine-learning algorithm flags potential calls (mostly Offside) for human officials to consult.
It’s exciting to see this because I can think of a few sports (NFL football being the big one, since so many of its rules involve the ball breaking an invisible plane) that could be dramatically improved by technology that tells us where the ball is, precisely, at all times.
- This is where I point out that Qatar is an authoritarian regime, that FIFA is corrupt, and that the entire event was rooted in bribery and malfeasance and constructed by itinerant workers under terrible conditions. ↩