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Scientists learn to bend it like Beckham

Football spin scrutinised

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

David Beckham need fret no more about dodgy penalty shots, or scary pre-freekick moments. Scientists at Loughborough University have developed a system that will measure a football's speed and spin, something they say has not been accomplished before.

In this article (pdf), the team describes an image recognition system that can take accurate measurements of ball velocity, elevation, spin rate and spin axis. The ball is marked with various coloured panels so that each orientation of the ball produces a unique 2D image. Once the ball is struck the imaging system takes two sequential snaps of the ball at specific time intervals. The system then calculates the ball's velocity and elevation from its relative positions in each frame, and uses a pattern matching algorithm to work out its spin from the change in visible marker panels.

How the research will actually be used in the real world is an open question. It is possible that cutting edge roboticists, possibly working in collusion with Kevin Warwick, will use the results to develop the perfect penalty-taking cyborg.

An in-house football enthusiast here at El Reg says that in fact the most confusing ball to face, when standing in goal, is one that doesn't spin at all. This, he tells us, leaves it vulnerable to the whimsy of variations in air temperature, which cause the ball to veer around seemingly at random. We're pretty sure that Beckham et al already know this, but we thought we'd mention it, just in case...®

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