Joep van Cranenbroek in Johan Cruijff ArenA

The big football stadiums are empty these days. Corona has crippled just about every league in the world. This offers the grass teams the opportunity to give the pitch some extra attention. Their work nowadays is no less than high-tech data science.

If there is one thing that is decisive for the big football stadiums of our world, it is the quality of the grass. No wonder that all possible technologies are used to ensure that professional football players can count on a perfect turf for their performance. The Johan Cruijff Arena, a forerunner in football stadiums, has been using the data team of Holland Innovative for several years now. With sensors under and above the grass, the status of the pitch is tracked 24 hours a day.

Soon, a new way of monitoring will be added to all those already in place: thanks to pressure sensors in the shoes of the grass team, an even better picture of the condition of the field will be obtained. To achieve this, Holland Innovative has called in the help of the Eindhoven start-up ATO-gear.

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    Arion – a product of ATO-gear – is a wafer-thin sole with pressure sensors that measures every movement of the foot. The sole is originally designed for (and still mostly used by) runners who now can get instant feedback on their movements while running. This allows them to improve their technique and prevent injuries. But the soles may have more applications: Holland Innovative now wants to use them to map out the hardness and grip of the field in the Johan Cruijff Arena even more precisely.

    Read more about Holland Innovative’s measurement systems in the Johan Cruijff Arena here.

    The tests have yet to start, but the idea is logical, says ‘databiologist’ Joep van Cranenbroek at Holland Innovative. “We already know a lot about the field. With a clegg hammer, for example, you can measure the impact of a bullet on the surface and, based on that, gain an insight into the hardness of the field. In addition, our sensors constantly monitor the humidity and general health of the grass. All the information needed to determine whether the grass meets the owner’s target values.”

    But there’s always room for improvement. That’s how the Arion soles inspired Joep Van Cranenbroek to pursue new horizons. “The grass team of the Johan Cruijff Arena is walking all day, so to speak. So how handy would it be to collect data ‘on the go’, simply via a measuring system right in their shoes. The soles feel, as it were, how hard the grass is on a specific spot on the pitch – and how its grip is. With every step, the shoes collect new pieces of information.”

    From football stadium to precision agriculture

    Collecting data must be simple and effective, says Van Cranenbroek. “Having to take large measurements over and over again with a clegg hammer and what not is very stressful and inefficient for the field team. So we keep looking for ways to simplify that. For example, the mowers are equipped with sensors and we are now starting the tests with the shoes of the grass team”. Two field tests will have to be carried out in the near future to determine whether it can really work. “Because although it all sounds logical, we still have to show it in practice.”

    If everything goes according to expectations, Van Cranenbroek has plans to show the possibilities to UEFA as well. But the ultimate goals go further. Holland Innovative sees a direct relationship between the work in the football stadiums and developments in precision agriculture.

    “There is a lot of talk about smart agriculture. Data is an all-important component in this. But how do you get good data? That’s something we are good at, for example by constantly working on better measurement systems. Being open to the possibilities that present themselves, such as with Arion’s smart soles, is important in this respect as well. You first need to have the data before you can think about a possible implementation. The great thing is that our experience in football stadiums can, therefore, contribute directly to the improvement of precision agriculture. The closer the two worlds get to each other, the more promising it becomes. Yes, you can interpret this as an invitation to all agriculture and horticulture businesses to contact us!”

    Arion © ATO-Gear

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    Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.