Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence

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PlaySight Enters Into Official Partnership With Belgian Pro Basketball League

PlaySight Interactive, a cloud-based video and analytics platform used by professional teams for training, will bring video assistant referees and broadcast services to Europe in a new multi-year deal with the Belgian Pro Basketball League. 
The deal will make PlaySight the official broadcast, live streaming, and performance technology partner of Brussels-based EuroMillions Basketball League, operated by the BPL.
PlaySight will install its SmartCourt technology in each team’s arena to bring HD live streaming and automated video highlights to fans, something that PBL General Manager Wim Van de Keere said he hopes will increase visibility and elevate interest in the league.

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“There is an insatiable hunger for sports content right now, and that is no different in Belgium where basketball is one of the most popular sports,” said PlaySight CEO Chen Shachar.
Interestingly, the PBL deal will include VAR replays, using a similar technology to the one that debuted at the FIFA World Cup this year.
The same tech will also be used to power athletic performance analysis tools for coaches and athletes via PlaySight SmartCourt, which leverages multi-angle video and proprietary analytics to help athletes improve their on-court performance.
PlaySight’s SmartCourt technology is currently used by a number of professional sports teams, including NBA teams such as the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors. The company’s video technology is utilized in more than 25 sports across 20 countries, including tennis, golf, soccer, and football.
SportTechie Takeaway
PlaySight earlier this year raised $21 million in a Series C funding round that included investment from SoftBank, the Japanese tech conglomerate. At the time, Jay Choi, a senior associate of SoftBank Ventures Korea, predicted that PlaySight would become “the technology platform of choice” across youth, amateur and professional sports. The company had said it planned to use the late-stage funding round to expand into new verticals, such as using its data-infused video streams to enhance fan engagement and broadcast. Its deal with the PBL shows an effort to provide an all-in-one package for leagues, from analytics to broadcast and even replay technology to assist referees.


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Kobe Bryant Participates in $30 Million Funding Round for RingDNA

RingDNA, an enterprise sales management platform, has raised $30 million in a new funding round that was led by Goldman Sachs with participation from five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
The round included participation from previous investors Palisades Growth Capital and Bryant Stibel, a venture capital firm jointly run by Bryant and Jeff Stibel.
The company, which uses “conversation data” powered by artificial intelligence to help sales teams manage their relationships with clients, said it has been cashflow positive for two years and plans to use the cash influx to power a new growth stage.
In a joint statement, Bryant and Stibel said they originally invested in ringDNA in 2014 because they believed in founder Howard Brown, his team, and saw a large and untapped market opportunity.

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“With this latest growth equity round from Goldman Sachs, RingDNA has added another world-class partner aligned with its goal of helping enterprise sales organizations analyze and learn from their game film to become smarter and more effective,” they said.
Brown said the company is focused on “augmenting, contextualizing, and training” sales reps to be better by guiding them through sales conversations. RingDNA analyzes millions of calls with deep learning, AI and psychological principles to surface patterns in calls so that reps can optimize conversations.
“Conversations are not as unique as we all assume,” he said. “There are patterns to how prospects and customers communicate with sales and support reps.”
Some of RingDNA’s existing customers include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Amazon Web Services, Autodesk, SAP Concur, Cvent, Lyft, and Twilio.
SportTechie Takeaway
Kobe is among the former and current professional athletes who are making a post-athletic career investing in startups. His investments have taken him in and outside the world of sports. In 2015, for example, Bryant Stibel led an early investment in the Player’s Tribune. Bryant also made a lucrative $6 million investment in the athletic drink BodyArmor. The former Lakers all-star saw his investment in the brand, which is marketed as a healthier alternative to Gatorade, rocket in value to roughly $200 million after Coca-Cola scooped up a minority stake in the company earlier this year, according to ESPN.
SportTechie selected Bryant Stibel as a nominee in the Outstanding Investor category for the 2017 SportTechie Awards.


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NHL Will Own League-Wide Tracking Tech Set to Debut in 2019-20

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman affirmed that new, league-wide puck- and player-tracking systems will be ready for the 2019-2020 season and acknowledged, for the first time, that the NHL will have ownership of the technology.
The NHL initially commissioned development of the tracking technology to be used as a broadcast and fan engagement tool, with an early test at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legalization of sports betting has created an additional use for the system. This new advanced data source is the centerpiece of the NHL’s betting partnership with MGM Resorts.
“We will own the technology that we’re using,” Bettman said Monday, adding: “We’ve had to make some direct investments to get the type of technology we think we need and to make it work.”
David Lehanski, NHL senior vice president of business development and global partnerships, told Sports Business Journal in October 2017 that the league was speaking with one or two tech vendors. Bettman told reporters at the Board of Governors meetings last December that the league was “working with some technology companies” on the project. Those public comments made clear that the NHL was not developing the whole system internally, but the question of ownership had not previously been addressed.
League executives have indicated that there actually will be two discrete tracking technologies: one for the players and one for the pucks. A computer vision-based optical system will record player movements, and a sensor-based technology will monitor the puck. This proprietary tech will provide sports books, such as MGM, advanced data in real-time to help create prop bets and set lines. This is creating a new revenue stream for the NHL for an off-label use of a broadcast tool.
“It wasn’t designed for this—it’s applicable, but that wasn’t what our intention was,” Bettman said.

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Details, to date, have been scarce. When appearing at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last February, Bettman identified the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany as having worked on a new puck. The commissioner said the research group had re-invented the physical compounds of the hockey puck to permit an embedded sensor while still behaving and moving like a traditional puck.
No other vendors have been explicitly linked, although there are likely candidates. Sportvision—now SMT—provides the league’s official real-time scoring system, HITS (Hockey Information & Tracking System), and participated in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. That system, however, relied on transmitters stitched into each jersey and infrared cameras to track the action. Omega provided a similar system for hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but that also necessitated tracking chips. The NHL has said players will not wear sensors in the new system.
“While we’ve tested it in some forms at the World Cup, that was 16 games in two weeks in one arena,” Bettman said. “Having to scale this for 1,271 regular season games in 31 arenas is a little bit harder.”
Sportlogiq and Iceberg are among the other optical tracking systems that have worked with individual NHL teams, and PlayGineering Systems has worked with numerous teams, leagues, and tournaments overseas, including the Kontinental Hockey League. ChyronHego, STATS SportVU, and Second Spectrum are some of the leading systems in use for other sports. Kinexon and Zebra are prominent companies that make tracking sensors used in the NBA and NFL, respectively, and could conceivably contribute technology for the puck.
The above list is a roundup of leading tech companies who may have helped contribute a foundational piece for the NHL to invest and build on top of. Bettman declined to speak in specifics on Monday, and none of those vendors has publicly commented other than to offer a few generalities.
Sportlogiq cofounder and CEO Craig Buntin, for instance, said recently that the NHL’s plan is “one of the most forward-thinking, innovative, interesting approaches in any league I’ve seen so far. I really think that the insights these guys generate, based on the ideas they have so far, could really, really change the sport.”


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Humon’s Clinically Validated Muscle-Exertion Wearable Helped Underdogs Win Titles

Briana Williams arrived at the World U20 Championships earlier this year as an underdog. Then she won the women’s sprint double at the impressively-young age of 16. When Henry Cejudo squared up then-UFC Flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson in August, he, too, was rated the underdog. But Cejudo would snap Johnson’s 11-match streak of title defenses. Behind the scenes, those upsets were linked by a single piece of technology: a clinical-grade device that told Williams and Cejudo exactly how hard to push in training sessions and when to takes rests.
That device, the Humon Hex, measures muscle oxygen use in real time to get a read on exertion. After launching in February, Humon, a company which was born out of MIT Sloan, has boasted a 40 percent month-over-month growth. And now, a number of world class athletes are leveraging the Hex to seek an edge.
Williams, who has arisen as Jamaica’s newest and youngest sprint sensation, made history this year as a sophomore in high school when she set a world age group record for 15-year-olds in the 100m. A few months later, she became the youngest person ever to bag the U20 women’s sprint double. She’s now eyeing a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her coach, four-time Olympic medal winner Ato Boldon, who also trains the 20-year-old Trinidadian sprinter Khalifa St Fort, said he is looking to expand the use of the Hex across all the athletes he trains.
“This thing enables me to have a lot of precision with how I work. I don’t just go in there and throw the whole gym or track at them and say ‘If they survive, great,’” Boldon, who now serves as an advisor to Humon, said. “This says ‘Here’s where we are going to go, and we’re not going to go past it.’ And when I see that it gets into the red or stays in the red too long, then we’re going to back up. It’s about being able to know where the edge is by looking at a live real-time read-up from the Hex.”
Cejudo’s coach, Kevin Longoria, is a clinical exercise physiologist and the chief science officer of Neuroforce1, a data-driven athletic training program based on medical-grade research. He said the Humon Hex exceeded his expectations and quality standards.
Henry Cejudo kicks Demetrious Johnson in the second round of the UFC Flyweight Title Bout on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

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There are a number of wearables on the market with sensors and GPS technology that promise to help athletes train harder with a lower potential of injury, but the Humon Hex stands out because of its clinically approved status and real-time metrics. Personalized muscle exertion metrics were previously limited to professional trainers in sophisticated facilities. Humon wants to democratize this metric so more athletes can benefit.
“Our vision is to empower people with the body insights they need to be better version of themselves,” said Humon CEO and co-founder Alessandro Babini.
In addition to receiving data on distance and splits via GPS and heart rate, an athlete wearing the Hex can receive graphical feedback on their smartphone, smartwatch, or bike computer to quickly understand how hard they’re pushing. The Hex guides athletes through a display of colored training zones—green, blue, orange, and red—which change in real-time based on the athlete’s level of oxygen demand versus consumption. A blue shade indicates they’re in recovery, while orange indicates a person is at their limit, and red warns that the current level is unsustainable. A person might spend most of their time on recovery days in the blue and green, while bursting into the orange and red on interval days. The scale is personalized and changes based on a person’s level of fatigue heading into the workout. As Babini explained, “your red zone today is going to be different than your red zone tonight or tomorrow.”
Using the device, athletes can perform regular lactate threshold tests and measure the exertion of their muscles to understand when they need to push harder or ease up for recovery. Babino said lactic acid is a lagging proxy for muscle oxygen, but that oxygen consumption enables real-time feedback. Compared with a heart rate monitor alone, this enables athletes to get a more accurate read on their workouts so they can determine how hard or easy they’re working.
“Heart rate is great but has huge limitations,” Babino said.
Humon Hex platform provides a color scale for exertion. (Courtesy of Humon)
The Hex is just the first wave of Humon’s long-term vision. In the next iteration of the platform, scheduled to launch next year, Humon plans to unveil a subscription-based AI coach so that athletes can pick-up the device and gain personalized training insights even if they don’t have a trainer.
“If you want to run a half marathon in three weeks, it will guide you through the whole process,” Babini said. “You don’t have to look online at those training programs that are supposedly going to help a billion people train the same way. We tailor the training specifically to you.”
Further down the road, the company plans to use the optical sensors that power its technology to measure a range of body insights beyond just muscle exertion. Humon is hoping to eventually link up with existing apparel and shoe makers to partner on smart sneakers, shorts, and shirts, which would enable Humon to place sensors on specific muscle groups or organs to provide more granular and targeted readings.
Humon isn’t planning to build its own apparel. Rather, it aims to partner with and leverage large brands, such as Nike, to activate their clothes with its sensors and platform.
“Clothing seems to be the perfect path because it gives you access to not only a lot of parts of the body, but it’s also something we all already use,” Babini said. “We’re big believers in this market. It’s going to be a big industry and we want to position this company as a market leader.”
Humon ultimately aims to be the platform underlying smart apparel insights. With a number of elite athletes already on its roster, and some of the best optical sensor researchers out of MIT acting as advisors, Babini and his team believe Humon is well-positioned take body insights into the future.
“Sports are so competitive now—everyone’s trying to get that edge,” said Boldon. “I had nothing remotely like this. But if I did, being the athlete I was, it probably would’ve benefited me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.” 


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SoftBank Backs Sports AI Platform HEED in $35 Million Round

Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank is backing HEED, a platform powered by artificial intelligence that’s meant to better connect fans to the emotional and physical realities of sports.
The tech giant announced this week that it had led a $35 million funding round for HEED to accelerate the startup’s growth in internet-of-things analytics and artificial intelligence. HEED uses those technologies and a series of sensors worn by athletes to better visualize sports and enhance the fan experience on mobile.
The HEED platform promises to illuminate “the invisible insights behind key moments from live events.” It uses AI to identify the most exciting moments—similar to tech used by companies such as IBM for automating highlights—and IoT-based data to generate new insights about sports. Visualizations can be delivered in real time to fans’ mobile devices. According to TechCrunch, HEED can make “inferences about a player’s emotional state based on the data.”

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The startup, created through a joint venture between IoT company AGT International and advertising and talent agency Endeavor, plans to use the latest investment to bolster its expansion through partnerships with sports clubs and leagues around the world, notably across soccer, MMA, and basketball.
“HEED has developed a unique platform that is changing the way fans watch and interact with sports,” said SoftBank CFO Alok Sama, in a statement. “HEED is taking a traditionally static experience and providing fans with deeper insights into the physical and emotional aspects.”
In August 2017, HEED announced partnerships with the UFC, EuroLeague basketball, Professional Bull Riders, and a number of soccer clubs. With the EuroLeague, HEED deployed IoT sensors in all 16 arenas of the premier European competition, capturing data on audience, players, and coaches. With Pro Bull Riders, it outfitted both the bull and rider with sensors that measured spin, direction changes, kicks, and rider control, upgrading the league to a more objective, metrics-based scoring system.
“Technology has evolved tremendously in interpreting the physical world,” said HEED co-founder and AGT International owner Mati Kochavi in the announcement. “HEED is harnessing this to create a new sports fan experience.”
SportTechie Takeaway
Artificial intelligence is being deployed across the sports technology world to better identify highlights, while sensors are being used to accumulate as much data as possible about events and athletes. HEED is taking a unique approach in that it is attempting to make inferences about the emotional aspects of sports. Teams and leagues are hunting for ways to engage fans. HEED is attempting to solve that issue by enabling fans to feel more connected to the highs, lows, and general excitement felt by the athletes and coaches during athletic competition.


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