Using RFID for timekeeping during sporting events

Using RFID for timekeeping during sporting events

There is no doubt that the Olympic Games have changed since they were held in the ancient world. In ancient Greece they were held in Olympia every four years from the eighth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. and included such sporting events as chariot races, cross-country running, boxing and wrestling.


When the modern Olympics were revived in Athens in 1896, they featured wrestling, swimming, fencing, gymnastics, track and field, cycling, weightlifting and shooting. Currently, the Olympics include about 302 events in 28 sports: nine major sports plus many sports from around the world.


However, it’s not just the sports that have changed. Modern technology, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, is now an important part of many sports events.


Conventional stopwatches no longer suffice for timekeeping during competitions. Sports such as marathons, triathlons, bike races and other kinds of athletes are using RFID-based timers, as well as other high-tech devices like infrared beams and electronic touchpads.


RFID is increasingly being used during competitions. As the Olympic Games have become an international sporting event, an ever-increasing level of security is needed. RFID was used for the first time in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, when it was used to check tickets. Tickets for the Olympics were equipped with RFID chips to speed up ticket validation at the gate and prevent fraud. Nearly 3 million spectators, journalists and athletes used this RFID-based ticketing system.


Using RFID timers during races ensures the highest precision timing. RFID timers are accurate to within a millisecond, even though results are usually published to the nearest hundredth of a second. This is 40 times less than the time it takes for a human to blink, making it possible to determine whether an athlete has won or lost with split-second accuracy. Accurate timing is especially important in short races, such as the 100-meter race, because such races are only a little over ten seconds long.

A soccer ball with a microchip

The idea of using a soccer ball with a microchip in international competitions has been floating around for a long time. The use of microchips in balls was seriously discussed after the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was marked by a series of refereeing errors. In particular, there were opinions that it should be improved so that it could, for example, fix an exit from the field, or accurately determine when a goal was taken, or help in resolving controversial moments. Here we digress a little from the topic and recall some moments from the history of soccer.

1966 England. In the stands of the most famous stadium in Great Britain 93,000 soccer fans gathered to cheer their teams with noise and singing. Passion in the stands and on the soccer field has reached its highest point, but the main time of the World Cup finals between England and West Germany up to 90 minutes has not determined the winner. On 12 minutes of extra time when the score was 2-2 England player Jeff Hurst with the ball passed to the penalty area line and struck a blow on goal. The stands froze. The ball hit under the crossbar and bounced either on the line or across the goal line. The defender quickly kicked the ball into the field.

The main referee of the match was not sure if the ball had crossed the goal line. The linesman, Tofik Bahramov, recorded the goal. The scored goal brought the English the glory of the winner of the 1996 World Cup championship, the German national team was in shock, and the 400 million soccer fans who watched the final of the championship could not determine for themselves whether the ball was counted correctly or not. For nearly 35 years, the debate over whether the ball completely crossed the goal line has persisted. However, in recent years, new imaging technology has led to the definitive conclusion that the ball did not fully cross the goal line, but it was too late.

This is not the only example of a controversial goal kick in soccer. A few years ago, during the FA Cup game between Watford and Chelsea, the match referee made another mistake. Heydar Helguson header struck the goal, which flew down afterwards, but did not cross the goal line. The ball was counted and the game ended in a draw. A TV replay after the game clearly showed that the ball did not cross the goal line, but the goal was allowed.

Soccer is the only professional sport that does not use instant replay. When combined with video image processing, it could be used to establish the truth and stop disputes. But FIFA believes that the use of video replays could slow down the game and negate the momentum for which fans watch soccer. As John Baker, chief referee of the English Football Association, told National Public Radio, “An integral part of the appeal of soccer is that the ball is constantly in play. If the referee is constantly interrupting the game to watch controversial moments of the match, the players, coaches and fans will be very disappointed.” In the case of the 1996 FIFA World Cup final, a large number of cameras should have been installed around the perimeter of the field to record the game. Then, a large amount of data should have been analyzed to determine the exact location of the soccer ball, whether it crossed the goal line or not.

Discussions about questionable decision-making have been a part of world soccer since the 1800s. Questionable referee decisions have generated anger, animosity, and subsequent conflicts that have sometimes ended in the deaths of players, players, and soccer fans around the world. Over the past decade, more than 100 soccer fans have been injured or killed in conflicts and riots. There have been a huge number of death threats to referees, including European Champions League games. To eliminate the possible uncertainty of decision-making, which could cause various controversies, the idea of using a soccer ball with a microchip was proposed.

In order not to lose the dynamics of the game and at the same time use the technology for accurate goal scoring similar to the 1966 World Cup final, the Adidas-Salomon AG, Cairos Technologies AG and the Fraunhofer Institute developed the RFID microchip system. This system consists of a microchip placed in the center of the soccer ball along with 10 antennas placed around the soccer field. The tracking system developed by Cairos has significant advantages over video image processing. It allows a small amount of data to be used in order to accurately determine the distance between objects. This means that the data can be processed in real time to determine whether a goal was taken or not, as well as a number of other things. The antennas provide the exact location of the ball. The ability to accurately locate the ball would allow line judge Tofig Bakhramov to make the right decision instantly. But even today there are still debates about the feasibility of using RFID in soccer. Technical characteristics of a soccer ball with a microchip.

By combining state-of-the-art RFID technology with triangulation techniques (triangulation is the use of three-dimensional calculations to determine exact locations), Cairos has developed a way to locate the ball and players in real time anywhere on the soccer field. The new technology tracks objects through RFID microchips embedded in soccer balls and players’ jerseys. The chip transmits signals to antennas located around the soccer field. Each time the signals that identify an object are sent from each chip to six antennas located around the perimeter of the field and one at each corner of the soccer field. This makes it possible to accurately locate players and the soccer ball at any time during the match. When an attacker strikes toward the goal, the clock on the match referee’s arm begins to vibrate as the ball approaches the goal line. The clock then flashes a Goal image when the ball has fully crossed the goal line.

The new technology uses active RFID tags that operate in the 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band. The high frequency allows for high-speed data transmission over a wide range. Since the ISM band is free, the system can be deployed everywhere. The Cairos system has a range of 300m by 300m and can process approximately 100,000 measurements per second. The system is accurate to within one to two centimeters, even if the object is moving at 140 kilometers per hour. The size of the transmitters, including batteries, is approximately 2 x 2 x 0.5 cm or about the size of a penny, so that the physical insertion of the microchip into a soccer ball is not difficult.

Problems with the use of a microchip soccer ball

The new technology was first tested at the stadium in Nuremberg, Germany, where specialists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits performed initial testing of the new technology. The first soccer ball with a chip was named Pelius (Pelius was the son of Poseidon and Tyro in Greek mythology) and was ready by the beginning of 2005. It does not differ in any way from an ordinary soccer projectile. Weight, elasticity, bounce – all these parameters are preserved. In addition, an embedded microchip helped keep statistics of the ball’s flight speed after impact.

Initial tests by Pelia gave good results, after which the new technology was used for the first time at the World Junior Championship in September 2005 in Peru, where four of the five soccer stadiums where the competition was held were equipped with the technology. During the tournament, referees had to stop play several times to change the ball due to the loosening of the microchip. Very little information is available as to what problems occurred with sending signals from the ball to the clock on the referee’s arm. There were a few other complaints besides the loosening of the microchip. After the Youth World Cup in Peru, Sir Bobby Charlton, former England national soccer team player, said, “I wish this technology had been widely adopted. At least so we know if the ball is scored or not.”

FIFA was terse on the specific successes or failures of the initial trials. Officials were in favor of refining the technology before allowing its use.

After testing the improved technology at the Club World Cup in Japan in December 2005, FIFA issued a statement indicating that the organization’s goal was to obtain 100 percent reliability of the technology, so the microchip soccer ball would not be used in the upcoming soccer championship in June 2006. Once the technology meets FIFA standards, the organization will allocate the necessary resources to use the new technology.

The technology seems simple – a tiny chip and a number of sensors on the soccer field line. But the whole point is that the soccer pitch is hit hard, and the challenge is to develop reliable technology that is resistant to constant stress. Following FIFA’s decision not to allow the use of a soccer ball with a microchip at the World Cup in Germany, Adidas issued an official statement saying, in part, that the company would focus on further improving the system before it could be used in competitions at the highest level.

On December 13, 2007 at the international stadium in Yokohama, FIFA International presented another version of the electronic ball – Teamgeist II. It was decided to limit itself to only one function – signaling whether the ball crossed the goal line or not.

The ball used to have more features, but then it was decided to use a simpler technology, which works as follows. Under the goal, 2mm cables are laid at a depth of about 15-20 cm. The wires form a magnetic field to which the chip built into the ball reacts. It does not take more than one day to implement this technology. When the ball crosses the goal line it transmits a signal to the match officials’ watches. The signal is encrypted, so it cannot be tampered with.

However, the International Football Association Board, which is authorized to make changes to soccer rules, has not yet made its final decision on the use of a soccer ball with a microchip.

The most recent development of a microchip soccer ball is the CTRUS from the Japanese company AGENT. CTRUS is a real soccer miracle. It does not need to be inflated or inflated, its weight and volume remain stable. Using microchips it is possible to determine the location of a soccer projectile. If it crosses the goal line or, for example, the field line, the ball signals by lighting up a certain color. It is also equipped with a video camera that captures the movement on the soccer field and accelerometers that record the speed of the ball and the force of the kick.

Nevertheless, opponents of the use of a soccer ball with a microchip argue that the introduction of this technology could significantly damage soccer. This view is supported by Coach Swanson, who said, “History has shown over the years that even with the latest technology, we don’t always get it right. Complicating factors are part of the game, whether that factor is bad weather, a bad lawn or an unrecorded infraction. Without these complicating factors, we will inevitably lose some of the great advantages this sport has to offer…”.

Be that as it may, the idea of putting a microchip in a soccer ball to track its location is innovative and unique. It is the way of man that he is always striving for perfection, especially in a highly competitive sport such as soccer. Although the ball scored by Jeff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup and England’s victory will forever be in the history books, the use of a microchip soccer ball offers hope that controversial goals will forever be a thing of the past.


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