Better Living Through Big Data

This is the future of ball sports

André Vatter Writer

In the past, many sports enthusiasts have considered how the technology used in international ball sports could be developed further. Big data analysis is revolutionizing the playing field with its ability to rapidly deliver recommendations for strategies and predictions to trainers and players alike. There have also been a lot of changes on the field itself: Today, soccer balls are no longer made of just air and leather; they are now intelligent pieces of equipment fitted with a range of sensors and linked to radio receivers pitch-side. But despite FIFA’s decision, following practical tests, not to use any of the systems during matches (yet), it is still all to play for.

Nike and Kobe Bryant are showcasing the future of sport in China, where the L.A. Lakers star is training around 30 players as part of the Nike RISE tour. The campaign, which aims to promote the American ball sport in Asia, is a social docu-drama. However, the intercultural theme of the campaign is not the most impressive aspect, but rather the ground on which all the action is taking place.

A court that gives directions

During half-time, spectators view what is probably the biggest advertising space available in indoor sports.

The court, called the Nike RISE House of Mamba, is made up entirely of LED screens that are connected to a motion tracking system. During practice, players can not only follow their trainer’s voice but also at the same time see the direction they need to take depicted before their very eyes. The surface of the court is controlled entirely by computers and can display any pictures, videos and live feeds required, enabling individual training plans to be created that are tailored to each specific player. And during half-time, spectators view what is probably the biggest advertising space available in indoor sports.

There is also a resonance mechanism that records and analyzes the players’ movements. This mechanism takes into account each player’s speed and acceleration, changes in direction, timing and dribbles. Successes are measured and no slip-up remains unnoticed, allowing trainers and players to pinpoint areas to focus on in future training sessions.

Simulating the familiar

The question remains: Could FIFA envision a similar concept on a global scale for soccer?

To ensure that the players’ experience on the court is just like playing a real game, the House of Mamba surface consists of four layers. Firstly, a wooden floor is laid for natural suspension. On top of this layer, there are more than 1000 interlocking LED screens (each measuring 60 x 60 cm), followed by a layer of thick glass. The final layer is an adhesive surface that provides the necessary stability for the players.

And the best thing about this particular court? It works! The response from Asia is overwhelmingly positive. The question remains: Could FIFA envision a similar concept on a global scale for soccer — and how would the turf be created? One thing is certain: The vanishing spray that was officially introduced to the World Cup for the first time this year would soon be history.

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