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GPS could help football refs make calls

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2009
David L. Shenkenberg,

This Super Bowl Sunday, imagine if referees could make more accurate calls using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS technology. Priya Narasimhan is making this dream a reality.

“We can track the wide receiver catching [the football],” said Narasimhan, an associate professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Her team of engineers has put electronics in the football and in the players’ gloves. The engineers can measure the acceleration and pressure of the football as it hits the gloves.

Engineers at Carnegie Mellon are using GPS to track football trajectories.

So far, they have been able to detect the football a few feet away. Obviously, they want to increase the distance that they can sense it. Narasimhan believes that GPS technology will enable them to do this. She sees this technology as a tool that will assist referees in making calls and help coaches instruct players. “I don’t ever see this replacing the human referee system,” she said.

The engineers have not yet heard from the NFL or the players. “[Their interest] would obviously be very exciting for me,” Narasimhan said. She noted some interest from equipment manufacturers after a segment that was broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Dec. 20, 2008.

Narasimhan said that she has no trouble recruiting students to work on football engineering, which attracts even freshmen and sophomores who might not otherwise have an interest in research. She said that she is a football fan herself. When asked to name her favorite team, she replied, “That’s easy, the Steelers.”

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