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Everything You Need to Know About Ball Tracking

Ball tracking has taken football by storm. Not only does the technology help match officials make more accurate and consistent decisions, but it also allows coaches to analyze the beautiful game with unprecedented detail and gives fans insights never seen before. 

Sensor-based ball tracking by KINEXON
MunichDec 08, 2022

Did a player touch the ball? When did they touch it? Until recently, it was virtually impossible to give a clear and reliable answer to these questions. Today, ball tracking has revolutionized how football (or soccer, how some of us say) matches can be called. 

Using Ultra Wide Band (UWB) and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) technology, connected ball technology can provide real-time data to match officials, which optimizes decision making on the pitch by capturing data on every touch of the game to an incredibly precise measurement. This exact detection of the kick point allows for faster and more accurate analysis of offside incidents and other in-game situations.

Foul? Hand? Ball Tracking Helps Referees Decide

Additionally, referees can see in real-time if a tackling player touched the ball and base their foul calls on reliable information rather than visual impressions. Thanks to three-dimensional tracking, connected ball technology can even help to detect if a player made contact with the ball with their hand and when.

The so-called heartbeat graphics clearly illustrate the moment the ball was touched. Hence, it is possible to determine whether a player had their foot on the ball before it crossed the goal line or whether the score should be awarded to their teammate.

For the first time in the history of football, connected ball data will allow everyone involved to determine precisely when and if a ball contact has taken place.“

Daniel Linke, Senior Product Manager Sports KINEXON

How Fans Benefit from Ball Tracking in Football

Capturing every touch players make on the pitch also creates synergies with fans.

Official match balls with KINEXON’s ball tracking solution not only received the FIFA Quality Pro certification in February 2022, KINEXON also became the FIFA Preferred Provider for Live Player & Ball Tracking.“ With the technology greenlit for official matches, the Liga Portugal Bwin later partnered with KINEXON and ball manufacturer SELECT to put together a test case.

During the first leg of Portugal’s relegation playoffs in May 2022, a league used an official match ball with a tracking sensor inside for the first time ever. Teams, broadcasters and social-media teams received hundreds of tracking data such as the ball’s rotation rate, shot speed, the tightest ball control, dribbling- and passing speed and accuracy, as well as successful tacklings in real-time. That created a multi-dimensional view of the game everyone involved enjoyed.

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Ball Tracking in Football: FAQs

So how does ball tracking work in general? Why does the sensor not interfere with the ball’s flight characteristic, and which metrics can be gathered? Read our ball tracking FAQs for further insights:

How does KINEXON’s ball tracking work?

KINEXON’s 500Hz IMU sensor can be integrated into any official match ball in corporation with ball manufacturers. Combined with the stationary real-time locating system by KINEXON (RTLS), it tracks the ball’s position up to 100 times per second with centimeter accuracy. Using artificial intelligence, the anchors around the pitch then transform the data into metrics such as speed, passing distance etc.

Does the sensor interfere with the ball’s flight characteristics?

At only 7 g, the chip does not alter the ball’s physics. Hence, KINEXON’s xBall is the first sensorised ball with a perfectly balanced center of mass that does not interfere with flight characteristics. A crucial aspect for ball tracking to be suitable for in-game use.

How does charging the sensor work?

Lightweight and low power, the sensor inside the tracking ball is charged wirelessly via a charging pad within 90 minutes. Once active, the battery life is up to 6h.

What are the benefits of the UWB and IMU technologies?

Combining UWB and IMU technologies, the connected ball technology transfers raw data in high resolution. UWB allows for precise tracking of the ball’s position, speed etc. At the same time, the IMU technology detects touches, rotation, force and movements. It is possible to pinpoint a touch down to 2 milliseconds. That way, it is possible to determine, for example, when the ball was played with millisecond accuracy.

Which advantages does the connected ball technology have compared to other tracking technologies?

Even from different angles, there may be several legs between a camera and the ball. With the sensor integrated into the ball, those disruptive factors drop out. Plus, a latency of only 20 ms means the human eye perceives everything ball tracking provides in real-time, which means: there is no faster and more reliable way to track the ball in real-time.

Do sensors work with any ball?

In theory, ball sensors from KINEXON can be integrated into every ball. In practice, KINEXON partners with leading ball manufacturers to equip ball models of professional leagues with the sensor. The reason: ensure that the ball tracking technology does not alter the ball’s rolling and flight characteristics or its weight and haptic sensation.

How does ball tracking support referees?

The connected ball technology tells in real-time when which player touched the ball and where, who changed its spin in which way, who passed or shot, and the ball’s position during any game moment. Hence, live-ball tracking helps match officials back up their decisions in real-time. Offside? Foul? Hand? Ball tracking helps detect every touch — or non-touch – and make a fair call.

Can ball tracking data also be combined with player tracking data?

Yes, KINEXON’s tracking engine not only enables live evaluation of sensor-based ball data but also the combination of sensor- and/​or optical-based player tracking data. These can come from player tracking systems from KINEXON as well as from third-party providers. Thanks to open interfaces, KINEXON offers one of the most flexible and versatile solutions for tracking data analysis in professional sports.

How do coaches and players benefit from ball tracking?

Sensor-based tracking of footballs can provide valuable information to players, coaches, and fans alike. For players and coaches, sensor-based tracking can help them analyze their performance and make strategic decisions in real time. For example, sensors can track the speed, spin, and trajectory of a football, which can help players and coaches understand how different kicking techniques affect the flight of the ball. 

How does sensor-based ball tracking benefit fans?

Sensor-based ball tracking can enhance the viewing experience for fans. With real-time data on the movement of the ball, fans can get a better understanding of the game and see things that they might not be able to see with the naked eye, e.g. the ball’s spin rate.

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