Tales From the Pitch: Game Ball


Well sports-fans, have I got a treat for you this week! Today we are talking about balls. And not just any balls, but the piece of technological wizardry that makes the Mars Aero Football League the must see sporting event of the Red Planet!
As the game was patterned after the Earth football, the size of the ball was maintained from those standards, sitting at approximately 22cm in diameter. But that is where the comparison ends. I wanted to know more about the key piece of equipment, so I visited the designer, Amanda Jacobsen, in her Sans Olympus workspace.
I’m greeted with a huge smile by Amanda who immediately shows me the first prototype she ever made (it sits on her desk).  It is a sphere of skeletal wires, and looks nothing like the sleek illuminated final version that greets players on the pitch each week.
“I knew that we would need to have something that would work in Mars’s atmosphere,” she said. “So I wanted it to be durable, and to be able to provide tech support to the referees and the league.”
And durable it is. Despite only weighing in at 1500 grams, the ball can withstand the harshness of Martian conditions to ensure that the delicate computer systems housed inside can provide all the necessary data.
This is where the genius of Amanda truly begins to show. The problems encountered by referees in traditional Earth games were somewhat solved by having a primitive video recording of the match that could be referred to in case of dispute. However, the MAFL ball takes this concept to a whole new level.
The ball is connected to the game infrastructure to provide officials with immediate data such as location of ball relative to out of bounds areas, players, and the goal. This allows a referee to immediately be able to provide an accurate call on offside rules, boundaries, and scoring. This in turn speeds up gameplay.
“I knew that other teams were working on the EV suits, but I had wanted to ensure that players were exposed to the atmosphere for as short a time period as possible,” Amanda said. “So a lot of the tech was designed to cut out waiting times that suspend play.”
Various sports have had basic computer systems in balls for a while, but one of this design’s functions that sets it apart is the auto-return.

The ball itself has propulsion and hover capabilities that can be engaged when it goes outside of a set perimeter. So any errant kick will just result in the ball being returned to the closest referee.

Amanda had taken her inspiration from the MAFL rulebook, and had wanted to create a device that would complement the core fundamentals of the game but in a way that didn’t detract from the sport.
“We want people watching the players after all,” she laughed. “I didn’t want my design to be disruptive so that fans care more about the ball!”
Mission accomplished Amanda and on behalf of all fans I salute you. My visit was illuminating and I hope that all you readers found it as educational as I did.