Australia has been the place to be for sports fans in the first three months of 2015, with the Australian Open tennis and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup football tournaments reaching their climaxes at the end of January. In addition, the Cricket World Cup got underway in Australia and New Zealand on February 14, while the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix takes place in mid-March. The intensive sports coverage in Australia highlights the need for sporting inventions.

Predator on and off the field
Australian footballer Craig Johnston (formerly a Liverpool player) became an inventor after hanging up his boots, and invented the PredatorTM football boot which was marketed by Adidas (Australian Patent 650081).

The boot allows more grip when kicking the ball because of deformable sections made of rubber (or similar) material that maintains contact with the ball for a longer time. Johnston came up with this idea when coaching children in Australia, as he realised that they could not grip the ball sufficiently in wet conditions because of the leather material of the boot. In his first prototype he used the rubber section of a table tennis bat glued to his own boots and instantly noticed the difference. The technology was later bought by Adidas (see http://design.designmuseum.org/design/craig-johnston).

The Predator boot was not Johnston’s only attempt at patenting football boot technology. He later had another idea for a boot called the 'PIG’ (patented interactive grip) (European Application EP1430801). The boot is also designed to provide improved grip when kicking a football. The technology involves placing a number of pointed protrusions over the front sections of the boot which are deformable and made of layers of material of different hardness. The end result looks fairly menacing.

Unfortunately, this idea did not take off in the same way as the Predator boot and no sports company took up the technology. Thus, the patent application lapsed and the idea was taken no further. 

Hawk-Eye video review system
Hawk-Eye is now used to review close decisions during most major cricket and tennis matches – particularly for close leg before wicket decisions in cricket and tight line calls in tennis. Originally developed at Roke Manor Research Ltd by a team led by Paul Hawkins, the full history of the technology and its use in sport is available on the official Hawk-Eye website.

Hawk-Eye works by using multiple high-frame rate cameras placed around the arena to keep track of the ball in three-dimensional space. The views are sent to a central computer which provides a computer simulation of the ball in motion to show whether it would have gone on to hit the stumps in cricket or where the ball bounced in relation to the line in tennis. The original Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application is published as WO2001/041884.

New balls, please
A great deal of innovation can be involved in the ball – the simplest aspect of most sports. For example, take the Nike Ordem II ball used throughout the AFC Asian Cup. According to the Nike website, the ball features "Fuse-welded synthetic leather casing offers optimal touch and maximum response", "radar technology" which helps players to "see the ball faster and react faster" and "Aerowtrac grooves and micro-textured casing designed to deliver accurate flight". 

Each new football tournament is accompanied by a new ball that claims to be the best ever. Obviously, much of this is hot air used to inflate interest in, as well as the price of, replica footballs. After all, the basic design of a football remains the same as it has been for decades – an inflated bladder inside a leather (or synthetic) outer shell.

A quick search reveals a number of patents relating to Nike football technology, including the following:

  • PCT Publication WO2008141284 titled "soccer ball with motion graphic" – this claims the inclusion of graphics on the ball which enhance perception of the balls motion and rotation. It has led to granted patents in both Europe and the United States.
  • PCT Publication WO2013148946, titled "sport ball casing and methods of manufacturing the casing" – this claims a simplified construction of the ball including pentagonal panels ‘welded’ together.

Whether any of these features make a difference to the players is debatable, but it is comforting to know that even the fundamental parts of sport are being developed constantly.

Cricket cooler
It is not just the professional sports scene that has seen innovation; there are also plenty of backyard inventors in Australia. For example, the Cricket Cooler is an invention developed and patented by two friends from Adelaide. 

The simplicity of the design of the Cricket Cooler has made many wonder why it had not been thought of before. It doubles up as a working drinks cooler and a set of cricket stumps, and the stumps can be used to drag the cooler when it is being transported. The invention was featured on Channel 10’s Shark Tank television show and gained backing from one of the show’s investors. The Cricket Cooler could be a hit, so do not be surprised if you see one at the beach, the park or a backyard barbecue in the near future.

This article first appeared in IAM magazine. For further information please visit www.iam-magazine.com.