Chip-Enabled Ball at 2006 World Cup?

Engineers working on a chip-enabled soccer ball are optimistic about the technology being used at the FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup soccer tournament in Germany next year.

"We’ve been testing the technology at the main soccer stadium in Nuremberg for some time and more recently in an under-17 FIFA tournament in Peru," said Gunter Rohmer, director of performance-optimized systems at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen, Germany. "The technology has performed well, and we’re pretty optimistic that it will be used at the games in Germany next year."

FIFA has shown interest in the technology -- largely to help referees make crucial goal-line calls -- but has yet to make a final decision.

The radio-based tracking system could also be used to determine whether or not a ball has gone out of bounds, to compile statistics about individual players and more, said Rohmer, in an interview at the Systems IT exhibition and conference in Munich.

The chip-enabled soccer ball is being developed by German sportswear manufacturer Adidas-Salomon AG, software company Cairos Technologies AG and the Fraunhofer Institute.

The technology is based on an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chip with an integrated transmitter to send data, according to Rohmer. The chip is suspended in the middle of the ball to survive acceleration and hard kicks via a system developed by Adidas. Rohmer was unable to provide information about the Adidas system.

Similar chips, but smaller and flatter, have been designed to insert into players’ shin guards, he said.

At the Nuremberg stadium, 12 antennas in light masts and other locations distributed around the arena collect data that is transmitted from the chips. The antennas are linked to a high-speed fiber optic ring, which routes data to a cluster of Linux-based servers.

The chips use the same 2.4GHz unlicensed frequency band used by Wi-Fi systems, according to Rohmer. "In our tests, we have noticed that although no Wi-Fi systems have interfered with our technology, our technology has caused some interference with Wi-Fi systems in isolated cases," Rohmer said. "We are looking at ways to avoid any possible interference because we know that Wi-Fi will be used at the games."

FIFA aims to test the technology later this year at another tournament in Japan before ultimately deciding whether or not to introduce it in all 12 stadiums in Germany selected to host next year’s World Cup soccer games.

"Even if the technology is very accurate, it’s not perfect -- no technology is," said Rohmer. "Our technology is meant to be an aide. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to call a goal will still be up to the referee."

The Systems event runs through Friday.

By John Blau - IDG News Service (Dusseldorf Bureau)

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