The Soccer World Cup 2014 is not too far away. We can look forward to dramatic games, crazy ass Mexican celebrations, and some insane fan behavior. It’s being held in Brazil in summer 2014, and with the Mexican team El Tri in the finals (and considering their managerial chaos pre-game) this will raise the bar for the celebration.
We know that athletes are being engineered to the best they can be, and the same goes for every piece of kit that they wear. Fusion got an inside look at the technology that lets the soccer stars perform at the top of their game.
Antonio Zea is the head of soccer innovation at Adidas. He manages the 20-plus team of designers, innovators and sports scientists who make the magic happen. He talked me through some of the new technology they are using.
“We work three years out,” he said. “Right now we’re looking ahead.”
This means that the tech we are seeing - while brand new- is three years behind what will come out next. “We innovate to make athletes better,” he said. “From the shoes to the ball, we want to create better aerodynamics.”
I peeked inside their Portland headquarters to check out what happens behind the scenes. The video above gives you the lowdown on some of the most interesting things I saw.
The Adidas Samba Collection cleats
Cleat names: The Adizero F50, Predator Lethal zones, Nitrocharge and the updated 11pro
The cleats may look pretty swish, but there’s far more to these than a dab hand with some neon colors. The Adidas Biomechanical lab revealed the various tests the cleats go through to become the shoes that you see today.
First off, a Traction Testing machine puts the cleats through their paces, measuring resistance and rotation of the shoe. Depending on the readings, the shoe can be adjusted to ensure adequate traction.
The machine moves the shoe into various positions to check the flexibility, and the Forefoot Flex Test (yes, this is the actual test name) measures the sole movement by bending the toes through what looks like a torture chamber. Athletes need to be able to be both comfortable and maneuverable when on the field, so this step is key in making sure the shoes don't rub.
The final cleat test is the Midfoot Stiffness Test where support to the midfoot is measured by moving the shoe around by a machine on a faux pitch. The machine is weighted with the body weight of a player to provide correct feedback.
3D Motion capture technology tracking
This was one of the most fascinating parts of the Adidas lab.
A large green pitch was actually a loaded Vicon “force plate,” that used 3D Motion capture to grab data. When the athlete runs on it, the system analyzes the movement and speed while the force plate records magnitude and direction of forces.
These tests combine to create a huge data set that helps the innovation team research and analyze different elements that athletes face. The data gathered allows programs to be tailored that optimize performance and prevent injury. Adidas pays particular attention to cutting movements and foot rotation as well.
The Adidas Smart Ball
This product was announced earlier this year, but it's interesting enough to include for those unfamiliar with it. The premise is devilishly simple but equally complicated, a feat of technology and engineering that will make little boys shed tears of joy.
The Smart Ball is essentially a football/personal soccer trainer. Built in sensors track motion and relay the data to an app that the player can read. This then breaks down the information into four sections to analyze, which include challenges, a record book, and tailored feedback.
The ball is scheduled to make its debut in 2014. The ball “looks” normal, with 32 bonded panels, but its the inside that makes it special. Inside are wires, sensors and electronics. All tested to ensure they can handle wear and tear from use on a pitch.
No athlete is an island and getting aspiring soccer players invested in the idea of teammates from an early age should be applauded. The Adidas MiCoach is a system including a shoe sensor, a heart monitor and a receiver that give you detailed information on your workout.
The MiCoach Elite Team system takes this to a whole new level. The Elite sends real time updates straight to the coach’s iPad and can be used by them to collate total training time, speed, heart rate and more. It can handle multiple inputs at the same time, meaning you get reading on a whole team. A small data cell is fitted between the player's shoulder blades and transmits more than 200 records per second from each player, allowing the coach to optimize game play.
Next step: Turning men into machines? Well, you never know…