Super Technologies That Will Change the Face of Football

As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, we take a look at science and technology that could redefine football as we know it.

Super Technology

Technology can indisputably make watching football better - just consider the computer-generated first-down line projected on TV screens that make it all the more clear whether it's time to move the sticks. But it can also make things worse - like instant replays that overturn calls and break fans' hearts, to say nothing of disrupting the flow of the game. Good or bad, technology bent on making the game better, more fair or more fun will continue to emerge as science tries to address perceived shortcomings. Here is a sample of some things in production, being developed or in early stages of research that could alter the face of the game.

Also watch: 10 sports technologies to love and 5 to hate

Goal Line Technology System (GLT) from Cairos Technologies

When it's fourth and one and they decide to go for it, it's often tough to figure out if the ball has crossed the goal line under the pile of offensive and defensive players. This German-made product – so far in production for soccer but adaptable to football - calls for goal-line sensors along the sidelines to pick up a signal generated by a half-ounce sensor inside the ball. This includes a gyroscope that measures the attitude of the ball in space, so sideline computers can figure out exactly when and whether any part of the ball crosses the line. In a split second it triggers a signal to devices on the wrists of the game officials.

Touch sensors in pads, gloves and other gear

Sensors deployed on players' bodies can supply data that can be invaluable for training. For example, if a receiver is catching the ball on his pads, chest or forearms rather than his hands, the sensors will know. Players and coaches can use the data to tailor drills that will get him to use his hands properly instead. It can even tell how much the receiver relies on his fingers vs. his thumbs. The gloves include a wristband transmitter to send the data they collect to sideline base stations.

Smart helmets

Several technologies are converging to make helmets safer by minimizing the chances of concussions and of concussions going undetected. Accelerometers in helmets made by Riddell measure the impact and transmits it to computers on the sidelines that can send alerts if the impact crosses a set threshold. Total impact to individual players can be tracked throughout a game or even a career. Separately, adaptive padding such as Xenith's Shock Bonnet and Riddell's Revolution Concussion Reduction Technology adapts the amount of compression helmet padding undergoes in order to gauge the magnitude and direction of the hit. The Bulwark helmet by Seattle designer Michael Princip has a shell made of separate sections to better absorb shock. The idea is to reduce the impact the head undergoes.

Kevlar padding

Beyond being five times stronger than steel, Kevlar is a good shock absorber, too. In fact, Unequal Technologies, which uses it in sports gear, says it's also the No.1 shock suppression material in the world. The company already makes insoles out of it to absorb the shock of running in cleats on artificial turf, but is expanding into football pads that do a better job of protecting players from crushing hits. It just hired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick as its spokesman. After returning from a rib injury when he got sandwiched between two defenders earlier this season, he reportedly wore Unequal pads for the rest of his games. The NFL is considering mandatory thigh and knee pads that players sometimes abandon in order to gain speed and mobility at the expense of injury.


While the first 3D NFL football broadcasts took place last summer, the Super Bowl will remain plain old 2D HD this year, preventing running backs from plunging into family rooms all across the country but denying viewers the eye-popping enhancement. Maybe next year. Who knows what innovations advertisers will come up with to make their now much anticipated Super Bowl ads even more memorable if they can toss 3D into the equation?

Laptop encryption – maybe

A laptop containing unique artwork to differentiate various forms of Super Bowl XLV credentials was stolen from a car in a restaurant parking lot just three weeks before the game, forcing the NFL to redesign the art so forgeries don't allow unauthorized attendees to get into official functions. A range of laptop encryption and wiping technology - as well as a more rigorous physical security - might have saved a lot of extra work for the graphic artists.

Genetic tests that indicate a football physiology

Researchers at DNA laboratory Advanced Health Care say tests for variants of a gene called ACTN3 can show whether people have muscle characteristics that can make them better football players. The lab says people without a variant that blocks production of the muscle protein alpha-actinin-3 are more likely to have muscles suited for sprinting and power - football. If they have one copy of the variant, they're suited for mixed endurance-power sports like soccer. If they have two copies, they're best suited for endurance. Figuring this out early can help find young athletes with the best prospects for success on the gridiron.

Biological joint replacement

On any given Sunday, football players' careers can end, often as the result of devastating knee injuries. Now researchers are coming up with ways to regenerate joints using cartilage grown outside the body with the help of stem cells and then implanted to make repairs. Rather than fix just the damaged sections of cartilage - something that can be done now - new techniques grow enough to replace all the cartilage in a damaged joint. So far, it hasn't been tried in humans, but it holds possibilities to lengthen football careers.

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