The story of this Israel startup could be the setting for the next TV hit: Imagine three Israeli partners in big high-tech companies since leaving the army, where they worked on top-secret weaponry and war simulators. After taking that experience into 15 years of building technologies sold to some of the world’s biggest defense clients, they started looking for something new.
One of the partners, Evgeni Khazanov, hatched the new idea while watching his young daughter practice tennis. Why did such a high-level sport, resting on billions, not have any advanced tools to help young club players learn from their own mistakes to play better?
He and his buddies combined heads and took the “brains” from army simulator technologies and tuned them to tennis. The result: PlaySight, a company that makes kiosk-size units that record and analyze moves, giving players quick online feedback on how to improve their play.
The company’s SmartCourt unit sits on the sidelines following the moves of both players and the ball, using five cameras strategically placed around the court.
While the system can’t turn anyone with a racket into a Federer or a Williams overnight, it can give emerging athletes the critical feedback they need.
Chen Shachar imagines the units in high schools and tennis clubs. And in the hands of pro-athletes, SmartCourt can be “served” to suit individual specifications at a premium cost.
Made for any sport
USA Today recently called SmartCourt a “game-changer” and not only in jest. The company has eight systems operating now on courts in the United States, and plans to sell 4,000 by 2018.
The idea takes the partners’ experience from building simulators to a more friendly game. They started with tennis, but the system — which can also say whether a ball was “in” or “out,” — can be adapted to virtually any sport.
“To just record the match with video is not a problem. That’s been done for years,” says Shachar. “We are not just recording but analyzing players’ positions and movements. We can take statistics as well, and tell a player after the match how much distance he covered, and what were his unforced errors.”
The idea of having computer software untangle the who’s who in a football scrimmage is a bit complicated right now, but that’s the mission –– to provide an automated tool to help players and their coaches identify points to work on, says Shachar.
“It’s like a mirror used in the dance world,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
SmartCourt costs about $10,000 per unit. Clients also pay a monthly fee. Users who log into the system can get a basic plan for free, but pay more for more storage space and premium features.
Shachar is also banking on the novelty of social video files, hoping that athletes will buy a low-cost premium package to store visual evidence of their latest matches. One planned feature will let them share their videos on social outlets, and theoretically with traditional TV networks.
Another Israeli product, ACE IntelliGym, is also based on military knowhow – in this case, flight simulation software – to train basketball and hockey players to perform better. The cognitive workout developed in Israel is used widely by players from professionals to pee-wees.
The match point
PlaySight was founded in 2010 in Kfar Saba, Israel. The company of 11 has been funded by about $2.1 million and is now seeking a new round of investment. In 2014, the company plans on opening a sales office in New York and another in London.
It seems like the ball is in their court, as Shachar explains how the International Tennis Federation has agreed to allow such systems into pro games — not as a coach, or for real-time feedback for players, but as a way for pro-players to review and improve their game after the match.
It’s an interesting development for pro tennis, since it is the only sport where coaches are not allowed on the court to advise their players throughout the duration of the game. “They want to keep it like two gladiators against each other, I guess,” says Shachar.
SmartCourt will never replace a good coach, but it will give coaches a better tool to understand how pro matches can be better played, after the game has ended.
What’s up next? Keep your eye on the dribbling ball. PlaySight is currently developing a product for the basketball court.
Read more about PlaySight here: www.playsight.com