Sony launches connected tennis racket with U-M tech

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Just months after Wilson Sporting Goods launched its Wilson X Connected Basketball employing patented technology from the University of Michigan lab of Noel Perkins, Sony, through a sub-license with Wilson, has come to market with a smart tennis sensor based on the same underlying U-M technology. The sensor, when affixed to the handle of a racket, allows the user to record data on every shot, sending information in real time to any linked smartphone via Bluetooth. “Through the app screen,” according to Sony, “you can check the swing (shot) type, ball speed, swing speed, ball spin, ball impact spot, and other data for every shot.”

Sony is the seventh company to incorporate the wireless inertial sensor technology from the University since 2005. “Up until now, we’ve been on small islands on the map, but these most recent deals have put us squarely on the continent,” said Perkins, whose algorithms have previously been used in products ranging from fly fishing rods to baseball bats.

And, according to Wilson President Mike Dowse, the sporting good giant intends to keep using the technology in a big way.

This past June, when the Wilson licensed the smart-sensor technology from the University of Michigan, Dowse said, “We are in the midst of a digital onslaught that we believe will revolutionize training and the athlete’s toolbox. We’re focusing development on sensor-enabled products that deliver data to the athlete for analysis and training to help them play and perform better.”

While plans have yet to be announced, it’s likely that other products will follow. In addition to having licensed the exclusive rights to use of these smart-sensors in basketballs, Wilson also has the rights to develop products in tennis and American football. [The company also has non-exclusive rights to use the system in other inflatable ball sports.]

Collecting and assessing over 6,000 pieces of data per second, the U-M technology developed by Perkins has the ability to identify and interpret that information that is of most interest to athletes and their coaches and to convey them in compelling formats.

“The data allows a rich understanding of performance that has never been achieved before,” Perkins said. “Even when using high speed film and video, athletes and coaches lack some of the data this technology provides including important metrics of performance such as acceleration, spin axis and spin rate.”

This, according to Dowse, is what today’s athletes want. “For the recreational athlete, this means enjoying a rich digital experience that creates more ways to compete and play,” said Dowse. “For the avid athlete, this means real-time training feedback that helps the athlete play better in competition.”

The following background on Wilson X comes from a recent feature in Wired:

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…Now, Wilson Sporting Goods is bringing a traditional brand name to the world of smart basketballs, and the company’s Wilson X Connected Basketball is significantly unlike anything else out there. Products like the 94Fifty need a separately-sold “smart net” to track the shots you make and miss, and the ShotTracker needs to be mounted on a net to do the same.

Wilson’s ball simply uses a sensor inside of it and some heavily tested algorithms to magically track your baskets and bricks. And unlike the 94Fifty ball, you don’t need to recharge it; it has a battery inside it rated to last around 100,000 shots—about two years of heavy usage, according to Wilson. After that, you can use it as a non-connected “dumb” basketball or possibly even trade it in.

“We will celebrate any shooter who shoots 100,000 shots,” says Bob Thurman, Head of Wilson Labs and the company’s ‘VP of Innovation.’ A running total of a user’s shots with the ball is among the things tracked in the mobile app. “They can contact Wilson about getting a replacement ball if the battery runs out after that milestone. That’s a lot of shots and we’d love to see the product used like that”…

Here’s video of the Wilson X Connected Basketball in action, demonstrating the video game-like, app-driven free shooting, foul shot, and “Buzzer Beater” modes.