Skip to main content

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

1309315 autosave v1 football1
Image used with permission by copyright holder
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.

Chloe Olewitz
Chloe is a writer from New York with a passion for technology, travel, and playing devil's advocate. You can find out more…
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more
The 11 best Father’s Day deals that you can get for Sunday
Data from a workout showing on the screen of the Apple Watch Series 8.

Father's Day is fast approaching and there's still time to buy your beloved Dad a sweet new device to show him how much you love him. That's why we've rounded up the ten best Father's Day tech deals going on right now. There's something for most budgets here, including if you're able to spend a lot on your loved one. Read on while we take you through the highlights and remember to order fast so you don't miss out on the big day.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 -- $200, was $230

While it's the Plus version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 that features in our look at the best tablets, the standard variety is still worth checking out. Saving your Dad the need to dig out their laptop or squint at a small phone screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 offers a large 10.5-inch LCD display and all the useful features you would expect. 128GB of storage means plenty of room for all your Dad's favorite apps as well as games too. A long-lasting battery and fast charging save him the need for a power source too often too.

Read more