Soccer, or 'football' as it is referred to in most parts of the world, has been played for over 150 years. While the rules of the game have remained fairly constant since the sport was conceived, the technology on and off the field is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Nowhere is this trend more visible than at the 2014 World Cup Soccer in Brazil, where modern technology becomes apparent even before fans enter the stadium thanks to a team of US-built Packbot 510 robots. Programmed to investigate suspicious packages and look out for signs of any unusual behavior, they assist the humans guards in ensuring the safety of the thousands of people that flock to see the games every day.
Given that the ball is the only piece of equipment needed for this simple game, it is not surprising to hear that there is a new 'improved' version introduced every four years. 2010's hi-tech Jabulani ball was a great hit with strikers because of its unpredictable trajectory. Goalkeepers however, were not as thrilled. In order to solve the issue, designers at Adidas went back to the drawing board like they have been doing every four years and after much research and testing, introduced the state-of-the art 'Brazuca'.
The ball which made its debut at the June 12th opening match between Brazil and Croatia, features six propeller-shaped polyurethane patches. This is in sharp contrast to the 2006 ball that had 14 and the 2010 Jabulani, which had eight. Adidas designers assert that decreasing the number of panels reduced the number of seams, resulting in a ball with a smoother surface. This allows it to travel at higher speeds before it starts knuckling or wobbling in the air following an unpredictable path. And while rain may not be an issue at these games, Brazuca is built such that it has a low water absorption rate. This allows the ball to retain its shape and hold, when exposed to water. But perfect as it may seem, Brazuca will more than likely be replaced with yet another hi-tech ball at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Also, in order to ensure fairness, 2014 World Cup officials have sanctioned the use of vanishing spray. Whenever a free-kick is called, referees can use the foamy mix to draw a circle on the field around the ball and also spray a line to mark a distance of 10 yards, behind which the defending players must stand during the free-kick. This clear delineation prevents defenders from moving up a few yards before the kick has been taken. As the name indicates, the mixture of butane, isobutane and propane gas; a foaming agent; water; and other chemicals, most of which evaporate, magically vanishes after the play. While the spray has been used in Major League Soccer (MLS) as well as the Brazilian and Argentinean domestic leagues for many years, this is the first time it has been allowed in an international competition of this caliber.
Another big technological innovation and perhaps the biggest one, is the introduction of GoalControl a German-produced goal-line detection system. Fourteen video cameras line every one of Brazil's 12 World Cup stadiums, with seven facing each goal. Thanks to the high-speed cameras and magnetic field sensors, the referees can now observe where the ball is in real time, leaving no doubt about whether a goal counts or not. Referees have also been equipped with smart watches, which vibrate and flash 'GOAL' in bright letters, when the ball crosses the goal line.
FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, previously opposed detection systems like GoalControl. However, the controversy surrounding Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup changed that. For those of you that are a little hazy on the details, the events unfolded during a match between Germany & England. Lampard who plays for England, kicked a ball that hit the crossbar and bounced next to the goal line. While he and his teammates were convinced that they had scored a goal, the referee did not share the same view. Subsequent reviews of the match showed that the ball did in fact pass the white line and should therefore have constituted as a legit goal. While that finding did not change the outcome of the game, it was enough to make the organization reconsider its stance.
The innovations of course do not end with the ball and soccer field. They are also on the players themselves in the form of specially formulated soccer jerseys that keep them cool and comfortable as well as special hi-tech shoes that ensure optimal performance. Also, thanks to Sony and FIFA, even those that cannot afford to trek to Brazil have a chance to enjoy the games as though they are sitting in the stadiums alongside the thousands of other fans. That's because the matches are being broadcast live in a super high-resolution 4K, which happens to be four times the resolution of full HD 1080p!
Resources: wired.com, gizmodo, dailymail.co.uk,finance.yahoo.com