Footballs with Chips Powered by AirFuel RF

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Football is a game of inches, championships are decided by whether a leather ball crossed a line of paint and are often virtual.  And with Super Bowl 57 around the corner, fans are hoping that those narrow decisions go their way. AirFuel RF wireless power is enabling a precise approach using footballs with advanced electronics embedded inside that will also revolutionize fan engagement.

Now to be fair, football has adopted more and more sensors in recent years—from RFID chips in helmets to track impacts to sensors tracking speed for NextGenStats and chips in shoulder pads to track player movement and predict injuries before they happen. This real-time data is provided by tiny sensors and communication systems embedded in the equipment worn by players and has allowed fans to “get geeky” about just how impressive the performance of their favorite players or teams is. 

Many in the sport are calling for advanced motion tracking and communications technology to be integrated into footballs. Even Patrick Mahomes, MVP quarterback who will play this Sunday in the Super Bowl, described how it would improve the officiating:

“I’ve always thought the chip in the ball has to happen sometime, where if you cross the line, it just tells you a touchdown. The biggest thing to me is when they get in the pile by the end zone, there is literally no way to tell if he’s in the end zone or not.” – Patrick Mahomes, WHOOP podcast via the Kansas City Star

We have sensors now that can enable real-time tracking of metrics such as ball speed, rotation, acceleration, and precise location. Having a chip in the football can allow us to know who throws a tighter spiral, how hard a ball is kicked, and no more guessing of the precise location of the football or wondering whether the runner crossed the goal line and scored a touchdown. 

Seems easy enough, right? NO! The integration of the advanced electronics and battery would have to avoid changing the football’s overall characteristics (weight, aerodynamics, and feel) of the footballs, would need to be imperceptible to the athletes, and be durable enough to withstand the beating it will take during the game. But those aren’t even the biggest technical challenge. The trick is how to keep these high-tech footballs juiced up. Keeping the batteries that power the electronics inside these footballs charged throughout their lifetime is no simple task. 

Using a traditional charging cord doesn’t work because the charging port would be liable to water and dirt, so a wireless charging solution is needed. An inductive wireless charging solution similar to the one on smartphones is not relevant, since the electronics are buried deep inside the football and the inductive-based charging can only be a couple of millimeters away from the transceiver. So what now?

Catapult and Energous have the answer for us! Catapult (the leading sports performance analytics company) and AirFuel board member Energous (leaders in RF wireless power at a distance) have teamed up to build a solution based on the newly released AirFuel RF wireless power technology. The innovative solution uses RF wireless power to deliver power-at-a-distance to a small battery located deep inside the football when placed in a cradle independent of the orientation of the ball. And of course, these modern sensor-equipped footballs look and feel just like regular ones. You can read more about their partnership to put RF chips in footballs here.

So Patrick Mahomes can finally have his wish of smart-footballs granted, but good luck trying to tell these apart from the not-so-smart footballs..