Nike has unveiled a new football ahead of the start of the 2020/21 season which promises a 30 per cent “truer flight” than previous designs.
The Nike Flight ball has been developed as a solution to what the brand calls “unpredictable movement”, and is the product of eight years of research conducted by the brand’s Equipment Innovation Lab.
The ball is set to feature in the coming Premier League season.
The design is the first to use Nike’s new AerowSculpt technology. This technology, labelled as “game-changing” by the brand, is what gives the ball its noticeable surface grooves.
Known as Aerotrack grooves, they “promote air movement around the ball”, rather than gripping its surface. The team began with a square-shaped groove, according to Nike senior director for global equipment Kieran Ronan, but modified its shape throughout the process.
Additionally, Ronan explains, the team explored how these grooves would be place on the ball. The final result is a pattern of “sculpted chevrons”, which “help promote a more stable flight” he says.
Beyond the characteristic new grooves, smaller features have also been added to further increase reliability. For example, the Flight departs from traditional 12-panel ball designs, instead sporting just four. Similarly, Nike’s All Conditions Control 3D Ink tech has been used to “strategically print ‘micro flaps’” along the grooves. According to the lab team, this further optimises the design for “aerodynamic stability”.
Eight years of research and development undertaken by the Innovation Lab were split into three stages, according to Nike: Explore, Recreate and Innovate.
The Explore stage saw the team use tracking systems to measure ball flight throughout gameplay. This was done to better understand “what conditions the ball experiences during play”, according to a statement from Nike, and allowed its engineers to gain quantifiable measurements.
“Everything done at the lab is rooted in science,” says Ronan. “We are able to detect small differences in performance that may not be perceivable to most athletes.”
From the Explore stage, the team moved into Recreate – wherein the lab replicated kick types observed on the pitch. As Ronan explains, this process allowed for the ability to measure small differences between potential designs, and gather “a suite of quantifiable tests to innovate against”.
In total, some 68 iterations were produced in order to find the optimum design for Nike Flight during the Innovate stage of the process. Each design tested different ideas around aerodynamics, materials and constructions – and more than 800 professional athletes were brought in to participate in field testing.
The final result, Ronan says, is a “noticeable leap in performance”.