Australia is the place to be for major sporting events in the first three months of 2015, with the Australian Open Tennis and the Asian Cup Football tournaments reaching their climax at the end of January.  Congratulations to Serena, Novak and Australia.

In addition, the Cricket World Cup in Australian and New Zealand starts this week with the first match on 14 February and the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix is in March.

The amount of sports coverage in Australia at the moment has led us to search for sporting inventions in Australia.

Predator on and off the field

Dan and I recently attended a networking event for the Asian Cup with past Australian footballers Craig Johnston (Ex-Liverpool) and Mark Bosnich (Ex-Manchester United) as guest speakers.  Craig Johnston became an inventor after hanging up his boots and invented the PredatorTM football boot which was marketed by Adidas (Australian patent 650081)

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‘PredatorTM’ AU650081

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 ingenious idea when coaching children in Australia.  He realised that they could not grip the ball sufficiently in the 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.

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 goal of the boot is also 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!

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‘The PIG’ EP1430801

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

Hawk-Eye Video Review System

While watching either cricket or tennis on television there is one piece of technology which is jumps out at viewers – Hawk-Eye. This system is now used to review close decisions during most major cricket and tennis matches, particularly for close lbw decisions in cricket and tight line calls in tennis.  Originally developed at Roke Manor Research Ltd by a team led by Dr. 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 3D space.  Their vision is sent to a central computer which provides a computer simulation of the ball in motion to show if it would have gone on the hit the stumps in cricket or where the ball bounced in relation to the line in tennis.  The original PCT application is published as WO2001/041884.

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Figure 1 of WO2001/041884

New balls please

Even in relation to the simplest aspect of most sports, the ball, there can be a great deal of innovation involved.  Take the ‘Nike Ordem II Ball’ used throughout the AFC Asian Cup for example.

According to Nike’s own 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 probably 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, such as:

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.  This has lead to granted patents in both Europe and USA. 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.

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Soccer ball with motion graphic

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Sport ball casing and methods of manufacturing the casing

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 constantly developed.

Cricket Cooler

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

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Figure 1 of AU2008318301

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 both a working drinks cooler and a set of cricket stumps, the stumps can even be used to drag the cooler around when being transported.  This invention was featured on the Channel 10’s ‘Shark Tank’ television show and gained backing from one of the show’s investors.

This invention could well be a hit, so don’t be surprised if you see one at a beach, park or backyard barbecue in the near future.