PhD students Lauren Holmes and Ieuan Phillips tested the ball across three separate platforms to assess its mechanical performance.
The testing started with the kicking robot, a device that consistently strikes the football at game-realistic speeds allowing measurements to be made of ball performance and consistency.
“The kicking robot is a piece of kit that we have developed in-house,” explains Ieuan.
“It’s useful for determining differences between different balls. Naturally, players are very unreliable, if I kicked the ball ten times it would go off in ten different directions, but the kicking robot can do the same thing repeatedly time and time again.
“This means we can isolate the different effects of technology in the ball – construction, assembly and materials – to see how they relate to performance.”
The football was then put through its paces during the drop test as Lauren described: “The drop test is where we hold the ball at two metres and drop it to see how high it bounces back.
“That allows us to calculate something called the coefficient of restitution where we have a drop height and bounce height. We can then work out how bouncy that ball is.”
The ball was also tested for its stiffness: “The stiffness test is compressing the ball to around 30 per cent of its original diameter,” Lauren explained. The amount of force required provides a measure of the ball stiffness.
Ieuan added: “The layered construction and materials of different balls, well as inflation pressure, will result in different stiffness responses. This will affect its collision characteristics – how much it deforms, the shape it deforms to, and the nature of its rebound, which may, in turn, be perceivable to players”
Ieuan summarised the importance of the testing and how this benefits global sporting brands: “The great thing about Loughborough and the Sports Technology Institute is the collaboration between partners in the sports industry, both governing bodies and brands.
“We’re able to meet the needs of the industry effectively. There’s been a lot of testing that has taken place over the last 20 years which has revealed how the performance of footballs has changed from a hand-stitched 32 panel ball to the highly spherical, highly uniform development we see today."
For more information on the Sports Technology Institute, visit its dedicated website here: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/sti/