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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 13:20 GMT
Football shirt with on-board computer
Football shirt, BBC
The prototype shirt is tested on the university stairs
Football shirts are being developed which have their own on-board computer, which will be able to track the pace and acceleration of the wearer.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, who are specialists in "wearable" computers, are exploring ways of remotely monitoring the performance of people playing sports.

This will help to tackle the difficulties in analysing aspects of players' games such as speed - which can usually only be explored in a laboratory setting.

With computer-carrying shirts, which send back data through a radio network, the performance of players in a live match can be recorded with great accuracy.

World Cup row

The three-year project is a pan-European academic venture, with universities in Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland also taking part.

World Cup Final football, 1966, BBC
If this 1966 World Cup Final ball had carried a computer, the goal line dispute would have been settled
The lead institution is the National Technical University of Athens, in Greece, which is examining ways of inserting computers into a football.

Such a computerised football would mean that goal-line disputes, such as England's goal in the 1966 World Cup Final against West Germany, could be resolved with mathematical precision.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have so far produced a prototype of a computer integrated with a sports shirt, which has a monitoring and transmitting system inside a tabard-style attachment.

In a spin

Lecturer in interactive systems design, Chris Baber, says that this equipment will now need to be reduced in size, so that it does not impede the player.

And the electronics will have to be attached in a way that will address another practical problem for a football shirt: a spin in the washing machine.

Dr Baber says that the wiring would survive a wash, but the other components might need to be put into unobtrusive detachable pockets or patches.

In the current three-year research project, which is receiving 200,000 funding, the Birmingham academics are considering that perhaps four or five players might wear these computer-carrying shirts - called the "Sensvest".

But Dr Baber says that in the longer term an entire team could wear such shirts, and that a radio network could monitor each of the players individually.

Football experiments

While the prototype shirts are checking factors such as speed and acceleration, temperature and pulse rate, other academics will be looking at positional tracking on the sports pitch.

Dr Baber says that conventional global positioning by satellite (GPS) systems would not be accurate enough and that more refined ways of tracking players would be need to be developed.

As well as serving the growing sports technology market, Dr Baber also says that such systems could help to stimulate the interest of young people in physics.

Physics can be difficult to bring to life for children, he says, and they might be more prepared to pay attention to football-based experiments.

As well as taking part in this "Lab of Tomorrow" project, researchers at Birmingham University are also examining other forms of clothing computers.

This includes a shirt or jacket that would allow the wearer to control or activate information in a computer or display terminal.

In this form of touchless touch-screen technology, hand movements could send signals to a computer without any physical contact.

See also:

04 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Computers as clothes
22 Aug 99 | Education
Sports professor's leap forward
16 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Game, net and match
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