Wilson’s New Smart Basketball Magically Tracks Your Stats
The Internet of Things isn’t just limited to smart refrigerators, smoke detectors, and other static in-home devices. The world of sports has also been infiltrated by sensors you can use with baseball bats, golf clubs, and football helmets. Adidas released its MiCoach smart soccer ball last year. And hoops has been sort of a hotbed for connected equipment, with products like the 94Fifty smart basketball and ShotTracker net-mounted sensor.
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.”
While the indoor/outdoor X Connected ball itself looks and feels similar to the company’s Wilson Evolution balls, the major, very high-tech differences lie below the surface. The ball has a Bluetooth radio, low-power processor, and three-axis accelerometer inside of it, and it uses machine learning and some proxy processing by the cloud and a connected phone to calculate shot percentage and the shooter’s distance from the hoop.
“Since 2005, there’s been a lot of demand for sensors in balls across sports,” says Thurman. “We wanted to reach the masses with our ball.” The plan of attack there was to make using the ball much like playing mini video games, with different app-driven modes for free shooting, working on foul shots, and going against the clock in a “Buzzer Beater” mode.
To log and crunch all the data, Thurman says the company worked with SportIQ, a Finnish company that develops real-time analytics and coaching tools for basketball and hockey. SportIQ created an algorithm that’s “98 percent accurate on makes and misses,” according to Thurman, based on tracking 50,000 shots in a controlled environment. Sony made the sensors in the ball that track its impact, speed, and spin.
The ball is designed to work on a 10-foot hoop, but during some hands-on tests with it, it also tracked makes and misses accurately on an 8-foot rim. The setup is easy: You pair the ball with an iOS app over Bluetooth (an Android version is coming later), throw the ball about 10 feet in the air with a lot of backspin, let it hit the ground, and the phone shows it as paired up. From there, you can select a game mode, start the clock by tapping the screen, and log your stats.
And it really does work sort of like magic, albeit with limits. The ball was certainly very accurate in identifying makes and misses—on both a 10-foot and 8-foot hoop, and with both swishes and lucky rim-ins—but it did log a false-positive on an air ball and didn’t register a few shots altogether. There are a few types of shots the ball won’t track by design: Any shot less than 7 feet away from the rim, and any where the ball doesn’t hit the ground after going through the hoop. So if you have someone shagging rebounds for you during a shootaround, make sure they let the ball hit the ground after each shot for the best results.
This rock is designed for single-person usage, because the ball doesn’t “know” when it has changed possession. That means it won’t split stats between two people playing one-on-one. But for lonely shooters, there are plenty of goodies: Badges you can earn based on your improvement, a one-on-one virtual game between you and an app-driven ghost player, and crowd and buzzer noises to augment your clutch shots—and a canned “clank” noise to augment your bricks.
The secret to the battery life is that the ball goes into “hibernation” mode after a few minutes of inactivity. If you’re just taking a water break, you need to do the backspin-and-bounce process again to pair it back up. Unlike the 94Fifty basketball, this is a ball built solely for tracking your shooting progress; there are no dribbling drills or anything like that, just stats and games that make you work on your perimeter prowess.
This all comes at a cost—make no mistake, it’s an expensive basketball. At $200 for both men’s and women’s sizes, it’s around four times the cost of the Wilson Evolution indoor/outdoor ball. But it’s genuinely fun to use, even if your game is beyond all hope of improvement. And forget about padding your stats with layups and super-sick dunks on an 8-foot rim, because it simply won’t register those shots—this is a ball for stat-hungry shooters and all the hopefuls who want to join their ranks.
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