The Light Side: Technology Is the Right Call in Sports
June 20, 2014
The football, er, soccer World Cup is well entrenched in Brazil, with the field of countries vying for the right to be called the world's best at "the beautiful game" soon to be whittled in half to 16. After suffering a heartbreaking 2-2 draw with Portugal yesterday, the United States can still make the second round with at least a tie with Germany in Thursday's match. Dark days lie ahead for Spain as the defending champ has already been mathematically eliminated from the tournament with its two first-round losses.
While they are calling for heads in Spain, the quadrennial tournament playing out in the sweltering Amazon no longer has to make heads or tails on close calls thanks to newly introduced goal-line technology. The technology has already played a prominent role in the tourney, determining a good gooooooooolllll for France in its match against Honduras. The technology is insurance against human error on critically important plays that could potentially determine winners and losers and the course of sporting history.
The particular technology being used at the World Cup is GoalControl, developed in Germany. The automated system uses 14 high-speed cameras (like 500-pictures-per-second high speed) mounted around the stadium, with seven pointed at each goal, to track the flight of the ball and detect whether it crosses the goal line. When it does, an encrypted alert is sent to the referee's watch in less than a second -- basically in real time and encrypted because soccer is right up there with matters of national security for countries not named the United States.
GoalControl simply beats the use of instant reply in American basketball, football, and now baseball. And judging by some brutal calls made by officials in the Stanley Cup Final, hockey could use some technology and video intervention, as well.
Here in the States, Carnegie Mellon and North Carolina State University, in collaboration with Disney Research, are working on three-dimensional tracking of a pigskin football using quasistatic magnetic field positioning and orientation tracking. Researchers are developing a lightweight transmitter, battery, and loop antenna system that fits under the ball's outer cover. The transmitter induces a low-frequency magnetic field that is emitted by the antenna and picked up by sensors located around the field.
Watch the technology in action:
A retread of FOX Sports' infamous glowing puck in its '90s National Hockey League broadcasts this is not.
If successful, not only will controversial goal-line and out-of-bounds calls be averted, fans will be able to track the ball even when it's hidden beneath a pile of bodies. We might even see an end to the favorable ball placement shenanigans that occur after rushing plays when officials try to pry players off scrums.
Ain't technology great?
"We're still fine-tuning the system, but our goal is to get the precision down to half the length of a football, which is the estimated margin of error for establishing the placement of the football using eyesight alone," said David Ricketts, a North Carolina State associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "[T]he low-frequency magnetic fields don't interact very strong with the human body."
The technology was covered in this month's Antennas and Propagation magazine.
Don't freak out. That's not blood gushing out of a glacier, although it does look downright frightening.
Blood Falls, a five-story waterfall that pours out of the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney in eastern Antarctica, looks like a special-effects sci-fi horror masterpiece, but its crimson-hued water is very real. You might also be wondering why there is a waterfall in frozen Antarctica in the first place.
As explained by Smithsonian, Blood Falls is the result of the Earth's natural and physical processes, its ultra-salty and iron-rich water immediately turning blood-red upon coming in contact with the air. A saltwater lake that supplies the water of Blood Falls was cut off entirely from the atmosphere by glaciers that had formed over it, and the lack of oxygen further raised the water's salt content to three times the level of normal seawater. The salt level is so high that not even antarctic temperatures can freeze it.
Blood Falls' lake was formed five million years ago, when sea levels rose and flooded Antarctica to leave bodies of seawater on the continent. After glaciers trapped the water in the lake, oxygen and sunlight were eliminated from its depths of over 1,300 feet below ground. Moreover, the continuing erosion of the bedrock underneath the glacier produces iron-rich deposits in the lake's hypersaline water.
Water from Blood Falls comes out of a hole in the glacier, and it immediately rusts in the presence of oxygen and stains the glacial ice, producing an eerie sight. Blood Falls is located in McMurdo Dry Valley of Antarctica and reachable by helicopter and cruise ship. Everyone would be well advised not to drink the water.
Nazar Bilous and Dmytro Baryskyy wanted a central location for all of their information. They wanted the information to be displayed to themselves, their team, or the public depending on the situation. Their solution to this was LaMetric, the smart ticker.
LaMetric is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to pull in funding for its first production run. The funding page is full of information about the project and different applications that can be displayed on the unit.
The casing itself was designed to sit on a table or hang on a wall, with bright visible numbers. Scrolling text or animations are shown in the campaign video, along with real-time graphs giving visual representation of data. Three recessed touch buttons in the top of the unit allow users to switch between applications or perform immediate actions.
Inside LaMetric is a short list of components -- an LED screen, a speaker, a circuit board, and an Ethernet plug. All of the design work is very elegant and simple. The team was inspired by the Nike FuelBand to build a screen that looked like part of the surface when turned off.
LaMetric is controlled by an app that allows the user to display what they want to see. Text duration, scroll, and timers can be controlled instantly from a smartphone. Users can choose from several pre-made visuals or develop their own in the API.
The entire feel of LaMetric is an elegant retro theme with advanced capabilities. The display looks to be 1980s 8-bit technology, but subtle color variations in the 8-by-8-in pixel display region allow for artistic expression.
A widget is online to give potential users the feel for creating their own displays and personal icons. I've played with the icon generator, but my pixel art skills weren't good enough to develop the Engineering.com logo. The online simulator is a great sell to show the unit's existing capabilities and the ease with which you can create new applications.
At first glance, LaMetric seems simple, but watching the Kickstarter video and reading through the developer notes reveals a highly advanced, customizable product. The early-bird units are expected to ship in January 2015.
These four everyday products literally took rocket science to invent.
As explained in the video below by SciShow, NASA, the holder of over 6,300 patents, has had its hand in things like power tools and medical devices. A litany of spinoff technologies we rely on without a second thought came from inventions that were developed for NASA missions.
As the video's host says, "You may never have set foot into space, but you probably have come into contact with a lot of NASA technology in your everyday life," to which he later gratefully exclaims, "Thanks, NASA!"
The video appears on Engineering.com's Everyday Engineering channel.