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Football chip could help referees

By Julie Clothier for CNN
A goal scored by Tottenham player Pedro Mendes, right, this month was denied by the referee.
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Technology (general)

(CNN) -- While football fans were dumbfounded earlier this month when referee Mark Clattenburg failed to award a goal to Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Pedro Mendes, a small German company was quietly pleased.

Clattenburg's failure to see what was --as shown in replays -- clearly a goal from 50 yards, infuriated followers of the English Premiership game against Manchester United.

But for Cairos Technologies it was the kind of advertising that money cannot buy.

The Karlsbad-based company has developed a tiny radio chip that fits inside a football and determines whether the ball has crossed the goal line, by being able to pinpoint its exact location on the pitch.

The idea has been in the making since 1999, when a group of soccer-mad German friends saw a similar blunder by a referee in their own country during a premiership game.

"We thought there must be some kind of technology that would be able to tell when the ball has traveled across the goal line," said Oliver Braun, one of the founders of Cairos Technologies.

The group began investigating options, including using lasers and light barriers to determine the ball's position, before settling on the idea of using a chip inside a ball.

They then commissioned the Fraunhofer Institute, near Nuremberg, to conduct a feasibility study, which revealed that the technology was available and the idea was possible.

Cairos Technologies -- a 15-shareholder, five-employee company -- was created in 2000, and since then, it has worked with scientists at Fraunhofer, German sports company Adidas and FIFA to develop the concept.

The chip, which with the battery that powers it weighs 12 grams, transmits 2,000 signals a second to a receiver network of 12 antennas, placed around the pitch, including on light fixtures.

The receivers then send information about the ball's location to a central computer, and because it works in real time, it can instantly tell the referee whether a goal has been scored, says Braun.

It also works in 3D so it can detect when the ball crosses the line in mid-air.

Braun says the way in which this information is communicated to the referee is yet to be decided, but it could be similar to the "vibrating sleeve," currently used by linesman when they want to talk to the referee, he says.

Braun says feedback from German referees, who were consulted during development, was generally positive.

Although the ball is close to completion, none of the parties involved with its development will comment on when it is likely to be used to prevent future disputes about goals.

Adidas has issued a statement saying: "Together with our partner FIFA we constantly strive to develop state-of-the-art football products and introduce innovative technologies for the benefit of the game," adding that the use of microchip technology in sport was one of many areas the company was looking at.

FIFA, meanwhile, has put the subject of goal line technology on the agenda of its International Football Association Board's annual general meeting, to be held in Cardiff, Wales on February 26.

But while Braun is not clear on an exact timeline of his company's product, he is clear that the Clattenburg decision has definitely helped emphasize the need for such technology in the sport.

"We've been developing this for four or so years but now it is really starting to accelerate. No PR agency in the world could have done a better job," he said. "If I ever meet Mark Clattenburg, I will personally thank him."

Braun says Cairos hopes to eventually see the technology used in other industries, including airport security and healthcare.

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