Russian CSOs involved in development of smart ball for blind footballers
Playing it by ear: blind footballers compete with smart ball
A tournament for blind and partially-sighted footballers took place on 26 November at Mytischi. They used the Soundball – a football that you can find at any point in the game by listening out for it.
On the outside, the Soundball is essentially no different from an ordinary football: it is the same size, and weighs about the same as its standard counterparts. Only it makes noises too.
“There are batteries inside, plus our transmitter board and some motors that make these components ring when the ball stops moving. The smart ball weighs 559 grammes – only 40 grammes more than a traditional mechanical ball for blind and partially-sighted people. So the difference for the players is indiscernible,” Elizaveta Shekoyan told ASI. Ms. Shekoyan is head of public relations at the Sensor-Tech laboratory.
The smart-ball-enabled tournament attracted five teams from various regions in Russia: Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, metropolitan Moscow and greater Moscow. The tournament was won by the hosts – the team from Mytischi.
The matches were successful because of Soundball’s high-profile features: a continuous sound enables blind and partially sighted people to orient themselves on the pitch, hear the ball and score goals.
How does the ball work?
The only difference between a standard football and a Soundball is that the Soundball has a small hole on its surface, which allows the ball to “ring”: inside there are special sensors and motors. When the ball stops moving, it starts to ring loudly. The designers say one charge should be enough for two hours of active play.
“Normally, footballers would use a ball with “rattles” inside it. That’s clearly audible while the ball’s in play. But as soon as it ends up somewhere off the pitch, the problems begin, as blind and partially sighted people wouldn’t be able to find it,” explains Nikolai Beregovoi, chair of the federation of blind footballers of Russia.
This is the main difference compared to other smart balls: Soundballs can be easily located, even when play has completely stopped. The ball can be used to play either football or goalball (a sport where a team of three have to score goals by using their hands to throw the ball into the opponent’s goal).
The designers have also developed special sensors for football matches. They can be attached to goals, and enable a blind or partially sighted player to work out the location of the goalposts and crossbar.
The Russian experts involved in developing smart balls come from the not-for-profit laboratory Sensor‑Tech, which designs technology for people with disabilities. Development took several years and was supported by the federation of blind footballers of Russia and the president’s grant-making foundation.
May 2021 saw the start of the first test training sessions involving blind and partially sighted footballers. Sports teams for blind and partially sighted people took part, as did representatives of rehabilitation and sports training centres.
“We’ve been working on the ball for around two years. We’ve listened carefully to what people want, and to their feedback. In the end, we’ve come up with a useful tool that our teams are going to use while training and during matches,” says Denis Kuleshov, director of the Sensor-Tech laboratory.
Sensor-Tech was founded in 2016 with the support of the So-yedinenie [unity] foundation for deafblind people. Since it began work six years ago, the lab’s team has delivered Robin, a smart support companion for blind and partially sighted people; Charlie, a speech recognition package; Albert, a communications robot; and other equipment that supports people with disabilities.
“We always support interesting initiatives from our subsidiary companies. A smart ball for blind and partially sighted sportspeople is an important chapter in the story of inclusion for blind and deafblind people. Like us, they should have all possible opportunities to lead a fulfilling life, including the ability to play any sport,” says Natalia Sokolova, executive director of the So-yedinenie foundation for deafblind people.
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