Richard Garfein, PhD, MPH
James Park and Eric Friedman
President and CEO
Eric Babolat is a patient man. The unassuming French native has waited 10 years for technology to catch up to his vision for the game of tennis. But now that the time has arrived when tech and sport are matched up, the president and CEO of Babolat, a company founded in 1875 and credited with inventing racquet strings, may have just discovered his kill shot over the competition.
“Not that we want to take over the market, but I think it will,” he says in reference to the company’s latest achievement. Maybe he isn’t so unassuming after all. But then again, Babolat, the fifth of his generation to head the company, should be proud of what he has brought to market with the Play Pure Drive, the first ever connected tennis racquet. While the market remains flush with devices that track vital stats for runners, swimmers, golfers, and other athletes, you could say the tennis world has been underserved when it comes to connected devices. But now the question remains: Can a connected racquet change the game of tennis?
To be more specific, it is a MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) enabled racquet with sensors built into the handle that records the flow of data based on player performance. All of the data is then transferred using a Bluetooth connection that is easily paired with a smartphone to a connected device or via a USB to analyze movement. There is even an option to socialize data.
It sounds like there is great power packed into the handle of this latest creation. But to pick up the Play Pure Drive, you’d never know it. That is because the racquet has the same feel and weight as a traditional one—an important element for winning over tennis players. It is a point not lost on Babolat, who stresses player experience with regards to product development.
“We started from the beginning and took the feedback from the players as we were going to make the product, (in order) to understand the needs and expectations,” Babolat says. “Tennis is a conservative sport; (players) don't like change, they don't like when you change the racquets. There is nothing worse for a tennis player than to change their racquet, I mean when you like your racquet, you don’t want it to change. That’s why we wanted something that doesn’t change the feel of your Drive. If you have a feel, switch to the feel of Pure Drive Play, we don’t want to affect your feeling, which is good, the feel of the racquet. That is the most important thing.”
For this Babolat partnered with Movea, a company specializing in capturing and analyzing movement. And perhaps the most important move for Babolat was to ensure the racquet is not only the first connected piece in the sport, but the most flexible to meet the future data needs of the players.
“The technology is getting cheaper and better and even so our idea is to enrich the content,” Babolat comments. For example, the device enables individual coaching based on an data, and the ability to send your data so that it can provide recommendations on your game.
Some say it is all about the data these days, and for the sweet sport of tennis it is actually about useful data. “We want to be sure that it is good for the players, it’s interesting (for) them and it remembers a conversation I had with fellows about this project saying, we have data, we have information, but what we do make about it?”
Perhaps the most pioneering aspect is the fact French-based Babolat chose to launch the connected product in the United States rather than Europe, where the sport is simply huge.
Calling it “the biggest tennis community in the world,” Babolat characterizes the United States as being a connected country, and believes it is absolutely the best place to start with his pioneering piece of tennis equipment. But regardless of physical location, the sport of tennis is universal, and the idea of putting a good product into the hands of players is where Babolat believes his bet will ultimately pay off.
“The good thing in tennis is that it’s a passionate sport and in most stores, the people (who are) selling it, play it,” adds Babolat. “We think it is the best way to promote (the racquet) because if they play and like it, they will talk about it and make people want to try it.”
In the coming years it’s a safe bet nearly all tennis racquets will come equipped with sensors and connected capabilities of some sort, which means the competition will be joining Babolat sooner rather than later.
Babolat, a man who has an innate love for the game of tennis, wouldn’t have it any other way, because that means the players—professional and amateur—are the ones benefitting. “Nobody will own a racquet, which is not giving data,” he says. “So I hope the competitors are working on that too, but I have no idea where they are now.”
Senior Vice President, Business Development, New Markets
“The Digital Sixth Sense is an extension of our natural senses through the technology we carry with us and the technology that surrounds us.” In a world where seemingly everything is being connected, Qualcomm considers the technology an extension of our natural senses, creating this so-called Digital Sixth Sense. And the San Diego-based chipmaker has quite a visionary espousing such a message in Kanwalinder Singh.
The man seems to have a knack for strategy and development. Singh joined Qualcomm in 2004 as president of Qualcomm India and South Asia, and played a critical role in emerging markets to enable sub-$20 CDMA handsets and sub-$25 EV-DO/HSPA wireless broadband devices. With a particular focus on smart automotive and smart energy, today Singh is tasked with driving the company’s chipset business in M2M—or as the company likes to classify it: ‘Internet of Everything.’
Much of that focuses around the ways devices, applications, and services are changing the way people interact with each other, and with the world. “The smartphone is driving that transformation, continually evolving and becoming ever more powerful,” says Singh. “And the pace of innovation is unprecedented. Just to put it in perspective; a typical smartphone today has more computing power than the Apollo 11 command module had when it landed a man on the moon. In many ways, mobile is the new computing platform.”
But that vision encompasses categories of devices far beyond a smartphone. It involves the enablement of new types of services across multiple verticals, including consumer electronics, automotive, energy, education, and healthcare, to name a few. In essence, this is what is meant by the ‘Internet of Everything.’
Which brings us back to the Digital Sixth Sense and three things that make up this idea: connectivity, context, and control; or as Singh describes it, “Digital Sixth Sense technologies simplify our lives by providing us with personalized, relevant, and timely content.”
He points to a new wave of new mobile experiences starting to come to market now, from proximal communications that provide us with continuous connectivity, to augmented reality apps that give us new ways of seeing the world, to wearables and sensors that offer us more control. Wearables like the Qualcomm Toq smartwatch serves as a second display to your smartphone, while showcasing the benefits of the Qualcomm Mirasol display, WiPower LE, and stereo Bluetooth technologies.
It is such “breakthrough technologies” that Singh says are driving this vision of the Digital Sixth Sense where our digital and physical lives collide. But in order to make for a successful collision, if you will, Singh talks about the importance of having an open source framework for which product makers and developers can enable such technologies.
“The Internet of Everything is, and will continue to be, heterogeneous—encompassing both vertical and horizontal products and services, wireless and wired connections, indoor and outdoor environments,” he says. “And it’s populated by products that run the gamut from smart computing devices to very basic machines that have smart capabilities because of the network and services to which they connect.”
It is with this vision, says Singh, that the ‘Internet of Everything’ can offer horizontal interoperability among devices and apps, no matter the platform or operating system. “This does not mean that there cannot or should not be vertical implementations that are part of the larger ‘Internet of Everything.’ Such vertical implementations exist today, and will continue to proliferate. But the larger horizontal enablement is best supported by open-source development.”
Perhaps his affinity for open-source development stems from early in his career at Qualcomm, where he worked to extend the chipmaker’s partnerships beyond operators to the open market and private bands in India.
But the past is the past and as Singh says, “The future is here, but people don’t know about it yet. (Internet of Everything) is already impacting key areas of our lives, like transportation, health and fitness, and the home.
“Through connectivity, the world is becoming more content rich, and more services are coming to life every day. For businesses, this can mean anything from streamlining existing processes to revolutionizing business models; for consumers, it’s the opportunity to avail themselves of new products and services or simply interact differently with the world around them.”
Pioneers Connected World Staff 2014-05-13T22:00:01+00:00