Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the boffins at Adidas designed the ‘world’s roundest ball’ for the world’s second biggest sporting event. It was the result of years of research, some complicated science and the hard work of a robotic kicking machine.
Adidas has been responsible for making the balls for the soccer (or football for poms) World Cup since 1970, and it’s been a constantly changing centrepiece of the game. The Telstar ball—which features the instantly recognisable pattern of 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal sections—was launched by Adidas back in 1970 in Mexico. In 1986, the ball was changed to use plastic instead of leather, and in 2002 for the Korean World Cup, Adidas added a ‘syntactic foam layer’ which improved accuracy.
But the 2006 ball was another step forward in the evolution of ball science altogether.
Instead of using the familiar 32 sections, Adidas made the 2006 ball—dubbed +Teamgeist—from 14 rounded panels. And instead of stitching them together, the panels on the +Teamgeist were thermally bonded (or glued) together, creating a seamless ball that’s almost entirely waterproof.
This change in design from 32 sections to 14 meant that the ball was a lot more accurate, no matter where you actually kicked the ball. At least according to Adidas, who had a robotic kicking machine test out the balls before the world cup by kicking it repeatedly against a wall.
The ball itself had a very mixed reaction during the tournament. Some players loved it, while others blamed it for their losses. Either way, it performed differently to the traditional ball thanks to its newer design.
With Adidas bringing out a new ball every World Cup, and the next tournament being held in South Africa next year, it will be fascinating to see what new and exciting developments Adidas introduces to the ball. Who would’ve though that something as simple as a football would be such a high tech marvel?
Playing With Balls is Gizmodo AU’s week-long look at the technology behind the sports we love, from the jerseys to the balls and everything in between. Go the Blues!