Would you be excited if you knew exactly how fast Peyton Manning of the Broncos was throwing a football in the Super Bowl? Or would you like to know just how perfect a spiral Cam Newton of the Panthers threw on his last play?
With a Wilson X Connected Football, you would be able to do just that. That’s why Wilson Sporting Goods is making the rounds with a beta version of its new smart football, which is part of the larger trend of connecting sports devices that allow you to more easily measure and improve your sports performance. Such devices are one of the hot trends driving the Internet of Things market, which is expected to be worth $29.5 billion by 2020, according to market researcher IDC.
Yesterday I got a good look at the football, which debuts in the fall of 2016. Wilson Sporting Goods has made the official football of the NFL since 1941. But pretty soon, those footballs are going to be a little different, as they’ll have a small chip inside them that enables them to connect to a smartphone. The Wilson football — a follow-on product to the smart basketball the company launched last September — has accelerometers for detecting motion, a processor, and a Bluetooth connection so you can send the data to a smartphone. Looking at it, you can’t tell it apart from a regular football, except for the lettering that says “connected football.”
On the smartphone, you can track metrics about performance, like how perfect your spiral is, said Amanda Lamb, global marketing director for football at Wilson Sporting Goods, in an interview with VentureBeat. I have never been able to throw spirals. When I tossed the football, the app had trouble registering that I had even thrown it. And when I tried again, it finally showed that my spiral was 17 percent optimal. Peyton Manning, I am not. You can also get data such as the spin rate and yards thrown.
To me, that information is fascinating. And Lamb said that the app will be able to tell would-be quarterbacks their stats and encourage them to get better. The apps will have games on them, such as how well you can throw a ball under the pressure of a 3-second timer. There are crowd noises and sports commentators to keep the kids motivated. You can share your stats on social, and you can challenge friends to play in real time, even if they’re in another city.
“Kids get guidance to practice at home, but they do it for 20 minutes and say ‘This is lame. I can’t do this,'” Lamb said. “What we try to do is bring game mechanics into that experience to create something that kids will want to play over and over again.”
The ball taps the power of machine learning, accessible via back-end cloud infrastructure, to figure out what you’ve done. For instance, it knows from the way the ball moves whether you caught it or missed it. It can then figure out the number of completions you’ve had. Before you start playing with the ball, you have to hold it vertically for a couple of seconds to enable the sensor by pairing it with Bluetooth on your smartphone. Then you tip it over and do the same again.
The price hasn’t been disclosed yet. But Wilson charges $199 for its Wilson X Connected Basketball. You don’t have to charge your basketball, but the chip in the football will have a limited lifespan of a couple of years, or roughly the usual life of a football.
Wilson has been developing the smart football and its app for more than 18 months. Rivals for the basketball include the 94Fifty smart basketball from InfoMotion Sports Technologies.
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