The NFL could switch to precise tech tracking with Wilson's sensor-studded football of the future

1309315 autosave v1 football1
For the past 60 years, official NFL footballs have been designed and manufactured in exactly the same way, so the football of the future has been a long time coming. The Wilson Football Factory has been pumping the NFL’s official “The Duke” football out of its Ohio factory for decades, using the same machinery and many of the same factory employees — but for the past couple years, it’s been experimenting with a newer, more high-tech recipe.

As tracking technologies become more advanced, footballs equipped with Bluetooth devices or RFID transmitting chips become increasingly plausible options. Chipped footballs, like the ones that Wilson is working on, would make real-time technical data available to referees and officials making game-changing calls. Since the ball itself is often obscured from the view of cameras and refs during play, a tech-enabled digital system would increase accuracy and agreement when optical tracking isn’t an option.

Wilson has a clear stake in the game, and would do well to stay on top as a football manufacturer as sports equipment goes digital. But after building 60 years of authority as the official football provider to the NFL, there are still some challenges involved with the project. Until the technology is as close to foolproof as possible, Wilson and the NFL both have good reason to keep chipped balls off the field. New technologies face enormous pressures even when they’re not being scrutinized by passionate NFL fans in real time on national television, If referees were to rely on a tech tracking system that malfunctioned for any reason during play, every company involved would wind up in America’s doghouse (and probably worse).

On top of the risks of basic functionality, chipped balls pose a design challenge for Wilson and their in-house R&D department. The touch and feel of the ball in a player’s hands must be indistinguishable from a classic, official NFL football. Wilson designers are still working on determining where to put the transmitter within the bladder of the ball so that it is protected, undetectable, and does not interfere with the ball in play.

In order to guarantee the chipped football’s reliability and natural handling, Wilson employs rigorous systems testing that range from human touch to tech analysis. Since the balls they’re testing are already chipped with trackers, Wilson is able to use a proprietary iPad app to visualize the trajectory of the ball and make tweaks to its design so that it flies the way an NFL football should. In summer 2015, Wilson recruited Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to do a blind test to see if he could tell the difference between “The Duke” standard footballs and the new chipped footballs. He was able to identify some but not all of the balls, which demonstrated that Wilson had achieved progress, but not perfection.

Wilson has already released a high-tech connected basketball to the public, so it looks like the football of the future is well within the company’s reach. If all goes according to plan, the new chipped footballs will be ready for a limited release at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, where fans at the NFL Experience before the game will be able to test them out and even take a few home. Wilson hopes to bring the product to market later in 2016, which would allow the comapny to officially install the connected football as an NFL standard by 2021.

Cars

Formula 1 is putting data in the driver’s seat, and not all racers are happy

After a single weekend of racing, a Formula 1 pit crew typically pulls around 2TB of data from the car. Everything, from tire pressure to the temperature of the track, is recorded and analyzed in the name of boosting performance -- and not…
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Music

The best new music this week: Jenny Lewis, American Football, and much more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week, we have new music from Jenny Lewis, Andrew Bird, American Football, Avey Tare, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and more.
Gaming

Get a new Nintendo Switch? You'll need to grab these accessories

The Switch is a capable console right out of the box, but it has its limitations. Thankfully, these Nintendo Switch accessories will allow you to make the most of Nintendo's latest console.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.
Emerging Tech

Chilean telescope uncovers one of the oldest star clusters in the galaxy

An ultra-high definition image captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile has uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. The cluster, called HP 1, could give clues to how our galaxy was formed billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover giant chimneys spewing energy from the center of the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels which are funneling matter and energy away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy and out towards the edges of the galaxy, dubbed galactic center chimneys.
Emerging Tech

A milestone in the history of particle physics: Why does matter exist?

If matter and antimatter were both produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, why is there so much matter around us and so little antimatter? A new experiment from CERN may hold the answer to this decades-long puzzle.