Enter the adidas Smart Ball, a brand new series of innovations aimed at providing instant feedback for footballers as well as the promise of improvement over time.
The technology in question is a golf ball-sized pit suspended in the center of a rubber bladder, surrounded by 32 traditionally-shaped panels. 12 posts, stiff yet flexible, keep the pit in place to measure the ball's speed, spin rate, spin axis, trajectory, contact location, and amount of bend after the ball makes contact with the foot. These six figures are sent to the ball's accompanying iPhone app (an Android app is possible if the public shows enough demand for it) via Bluetooth, with instant analysis on your iPhone's screen.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to briefly play-test the ball at adidas' lab event in London. Wearing the new Predator LZ2 boot, we were given the chance to kick the ball a few times and see the data from said kick in nearly real time. In truth, it felt natural with no discernible differences from, say, the Jabulani ball on contact alone.
The ball needs just ten yards of flight to obtain all of the necessary data for the aforementioned analysis. The 32 panels are thermally bonded in the same way that all of adidas' match balls are but offers true aerodynamic flight. The ball's weight falls within FIFA standards, as does its performance.
We spoke to adidas Senior Innovation Director, Christian DiBenedetto, about the Smart Ball's attributes and the ball in real-world conditions:
"The sensor package is able to analyse the flight characteristics. It does need 10 meters of flight to do the math. Once it has ten meters of flight, basically it can do speed, spin, bend, trajectory of the flight, and it will do the foot/ball contact point. It will show you where you contacted the ball when you kicked it. All of that information is transmitted back to the iPhone app.
"It is a standard 32 panel thermally bonded ball so aerodynamically no difference at all. The outside is made in exactly the same way as any standard high performance adidas ball. Balls with the electronic housing suspended inside have been tested to ensure there is no effect on ball flight, foot contact and bounce."
The Smart Ball's accompanying app does more than just analyze that performance though. As mentioned earlier, its main purpose is top provide players with steady improvement. As Christian put it:
"The adidas Smart Ball has been created for all football fans. Very few children are taught how to kick a ball properly and we want to give people the opportunity to learn more about the fundamentals of the game and to have fun while improving."
The app features four modes:
- An open kick mode that analyses the six statistics mentioned above: speed, spin rate, spin axis, trajectory, contact location, and amount of bend.
- A training mode that "focuses on improving the kicking skills of the user from basic ball skills to techniques such as advanced bend and no spin kicks."
- A challenge mode with three challenges "for one or two players; Power kick, Free Kick, and Pro Challenge. In the Pro Challenge, users match the trajectory and speed of a kick from a professional football player."
- Finally, a record book that keeps your statistics in a safe place.
The ball uses induction charging for its power source and is coupled with a nicely-designed cradle that features slowly-pulsating green LEDs. adidas had said that during testing, they found that the ball's battery would last through four days of continuous kicking before it required another charge. Additionally, the designers had mentioned the desire to market it at a price point accessible to those currently in the market for high-performance match balls.