Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor has announced that adidas has specified Nordic's nRF8001 Connectivity chip to provide Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth low energy) wireless comms in the world's first intelligent and app-enabled soccer ball - the adidas miCoach Smart Ball.
The soccer ball relays data on how hard it has been struck, offers visual flight trajectories, depicts ball spin, and shows impact points via the adidas miCoach Smart Ball app available for iPhone and iPod touch. This data can then be used to help train players, providing coaching instructions on how to alter kicking technique to, for example, bend free kicks, launch knuckle balls, and generate more shot power.
In operation, a six-axis MEMS accelerometer sensor package suspended in the middle of the Smart Ball continuously measures flight characteristics once a ball is kicked and streams this data via Bluetooth Smart wireless technology using a Nordic nRF8001 to a smartphone or tablet.
A proprietary app specially developed by adidas analyses the data from which key ball parameters such as how hard the ball has been struck, launch angle, spin rate, spin axis, and velocity can be accurately calculated, along with visual flight trajectories and an option to take a video of a kick and replay it frame by frame. This collective information - never before possible to obtain - can be used to help players to improve their game, either alone, with friends, or under the supervision of a team coach.
"In addition, in order to manufacture the Smart Ball to identical regulations employed in all high end match balls [Size 5 regulation weight] we also had to develop our own proprietary wireless induction charging solution to eliminate the need for any kind of external charging socket on the ball," explained Ian Munson, senior electromechanical engineer within the adidas Innovation Team that developed the Smart Ball. "This is used to charge a 160mAhr lithium-ion polymer battery embedded within the ball that powers all of the on-board MEMS, data logging, and Bluetooth Smart wireless electronics."
The ultra low power operating characteristics of the Nordic nRF8001 help the Smart Ball's rechargeable battery to support around 2,000 kicks per week. "This was one of the reasons we selected Nordic Semiconductor wireless technology," continued Munson, "in addition to the fact that adidas has worked with Nordic for many years and found its technical support to be excellent and its chips to be straightforward to design-in and robustly reliable in operation."
"The whole project started from asking ourselves how to make a football better," added Christian DiBenedetto, adidas senior innovation director. "Until now all soccer coaching and skills improvement has had to be done by eye and feel, which has turned it into a kind of art form. Now players will be able to scientifically measure their ball kicking skills and use that to fine tune their performance and compare with each other and the pros. This includes app-based tutorials designed to help master progressively more advanced techniques, and a 'challenge yourself' feature that challenges players to kick the ball within a certain speed, bend around a wall, or try to replicate pro level free kicks, all of which is sharable by social media."
"What really gives me a kick about all of this is how Bluetooth Smart wireless technology allied with the app-based computing power of modern smartphones like the iPhone and portable devices like the iPod touch is helping to enable the development of applications that simply were not possible before," concluded Geir Langeland, Nordic Semiconductor's director of sales and marketing. "This frees companies like adidas to focus their resources on developing applications that the world has never seen before and consumers will love."
The adidas miCoach Smart Ball is available to buy now at adidas.com, Apple retails stores, and the Apple Online Store (www.apple.com) in the U.S. and Europe for $ / € 299.95.