This week, Sony announced the Smart Tennis Sensor. You may have heard about the prototype exhibited back in January at CES where the very brave put their tennis skills on public display for real-time analysis. Whether people played or simply viewed as spectators, needless to say it was one of the most popular areas of the booth.
Hideyuki Furumi is Sony’s SVP and President of UX & Product Strategy Group, UX, Product Strategy and Creative Platform who led the concept and development of the Smart Tennis Sensor – – all the way from prototype to product. We had a very special opportunity to chat with him about this new gadget, including its design and development process.
Why did Sony decide to create a Smart Tennis Sensor?
“Sony has been and will be a company which inspires and fulfills customers’ curiosity, consistently providing experiences which make users say, “Wow.” Area that we explore is not only limited to Audio, Visual, Gaming or Camera experiences, but also new form of experience, by combining Sony’s unique technologies including hardware, software and sensors. The market for sports products has received a significant amount of attention recently and it will continue to grow in the future. We believed that, by releasing a product which uses sensing technology and vibration analysis technology to deliver a new tennis experience, we would be able to cultivate new business opportunities.”
Why did Sony choose this sport (tennis) specifically?
“While exploring possibilities of Sony’s strong sensing technology and vibration analysis technology to provide new user experiences, we found that these technologies can be adopted very effectively in enhancing racket sports category. This time we focused on Tennis, a sport enjoyed by an extremely large number of people of different ethnicities, sexes and ages, worldwide.”
How did Sony develop technology to analyze shot data including movement?
“We developed a new vibration analysis technology by utilizing know how related to acoustics analyzing technology, which Sony engineers acquired over years of developing our audio products. Acoustics analyzing technology analyzes the waveforms of sound and understands the sound condition. Then it outputs the data. Sound is composed of airwaves. Vibrations are actually the waves on objects which is silimar to sound resulted from wave travelling through air. So sound and vibrations are incredibly similar to one another. It is thanks to this that, we were able to utilize the acoustics analyzing technology, which Sony built up developing audio products, to produce a highly accurate shot analysis. The sensing technology features a motion (acceleration and gyro) as well as a vibration sensor.”
Why did you choose to put the sensor in its current placement vs. elsewhere on the racket?
“Our first condition for developing this sensor was to make sure it wouldn’t interfere with someone’s tennis play. Our designers and engineers worked together as a team to tirelessly test for locations in which users would feel as if there was no sensor attached to their racket at all. After testing a variety of locations such as the racket’s frame we ended on the grip as it had the least weight when swinging. Additionally, we came up with a mechanism for attaching the sensor which prevents it from becoming easily detached, even with the strong vibrations experienced by the end of the grip.”
How did you get the sensor to fit with rackets of all shapes and sizes?
“This issue was just as important as the location and we put a lot of effort into engineering the sensor to be as small and light as possible. By coming up with a new position for the circuit board, we were able to decrease the volume by half of what we originally began development with ultimately reducing the weight to approximately 8 grams which about the weight of 8 small paperclips.”
Why did Sony choose the partners announced this time?
“We consider that our partners have strong impact on the tennis market as well as relationship with a large number of tennis lovers, and hence these partnerships will allow us to provide a new experience to all levels of tennis players ranging from beginners to experts.”
Who is best served (pun intended) by using this tennis sensor?
“We believe our Smart Tennis Sensor will benefit tennis players of all skills. When we created the sensor, we envisioned many uses cases: a student in school, friends who casually sharing their stats, the first time tennis player, and local tennis clubs, all the way up to the professional or collegiate athlete. We believe there are quite a few tennis players who are looking to improve but also people who want to review or share their play with their friends.”
How does this improve performance evaluation?
“Up until now, when people practiced alone, or in some cases when even with a coach at a tennis school, it was difficult to review aspects of play such as the position where the ball hit the racket, spin, speed and more. With the Smart Tennis Sensor, as long as you have a smartphone, anyone can use the application to produce a visual of their play in real time. We have even heard from professional tennis coaches that being able to review your play immediately after a game or practice session is an extremely effective tool for personal improvement.
Furthermore, we are experimenting with combining videos of users’ play captured on smartphones and shot data for “Live Mode Video.” By simultaneously viewing form and shot data, users will be able to discover new aspects of their play as well as potential issues. “
Does Sony see this is a viable business moving forward or is this technology statement from the company?
“Smart Tennis Sensor is a brand new category for us, and we have positive expectations for this new market. There are huge numbers of tennis fans, looking to improve their tennis play, and our Smart Tennis Sensor can offer a solution, allowing them to visualize their tennis play and objectively review their own matches. We believe we can create a new market.”