Keep your eye on the ball is good advice in any sport. Now Adidas is offering soccer players and coaches a way to keep an eye, of sorts, in the ball. On May 24, after three years of research and development, the company unveiled its new, regulation-size Smart Ball, which is set for release in 2014. Suspended in the middle of the ball are two data-collecting sensors—an accelerometer and a magnetometer—in a plastic sphere protected by a casing of rubber and Kevlar. The sensors run algorithms that can track the ball's trajectory, spin rates and angles, contact point, launch speed and (take note, Mr. Beckham) bend of flight. According to Christian DiBenedetto, Adidas's senior innovation director, the flight characteristics, touch and bounce of the Smart Ball will be indistinguishable from those of traditional balls.
With a wide range of data sent directly from the ball to an iOS app through Bluetooth 4.0, teams will be able to make real-time—and objective—analyses of a player's performance during training. Learning how to interpret the numbers, however, will take time. Will an impressive 800-rpm spin rate, for example, trump the ability to drive the ball at 80 mph? Coaches will have to decide.
Zinédine Zidane, the former French star and current Real Madrid adviser, believes that tracking such elements of performance will help players refine their games to a greater degree than ever before. "If I'd had this ball [10 years ago]," Zidane says, "I'd have scored more goals."
The next step? Moving the technology beyond practice into games. "Now that we have Bluetooth in the ball," says DiBenedetto, "we can do anything."