A smart tennis sensor that instantly shows the type of swing, ball speed, and other details.
Imagine sports user experiences with this new dimension of fun.
Through advanced technology and design, Sony has entered the game.
Electronics and sports. They’re very different fields, but creating new ex-periences that link them well is tempting. At Sony, this challenge all began with a prototype created by an engineer who loved tennis. What if we could pinpoint where balls were hit by how the racket vibrates, using our audio analysis expertise? And wouldn’t tennis be more interesting if you knew where and how fast you hit the ball, how much spin you put on it, and other details? Surely seeing statistics for these details that we once had to guess about would make sports even more enjoyable. Believing we could make it happen, we took on development.
What kind of product would enhance tennis without interfering? To answer this difficult question, we formed a team of product planners, designers, and engineers who loved tennis. Considering what players truly want revealed a few essential desires in sports. Losing yourself in a match. Considering how to gain skills. Sharing the fun with friends. And just having fun. These were the priorities we built on, as we explored how swing visualization could add a new dimension to tennis. The basic concept of our tennis sensor – gaining skills while having fun, by seeing tangible statistics – was taking shape.
We wanted to give players a fresh, interesting angle on tennis through the sensor, but for Sony, sports was uncharted territory. We took a step back and carefully framed the big picture. How would people discover and purchase the product? And how would they start enjoying it? We even created a conceptual video to clarify the overall experience. By showing all the satisfying experiences the sensor promised, we were closer to making the business decisions and forming partnerships that would bring this magic to life.
It was an unprecedented idea to show swings this way. In development, we were blazing a trail with no examples to learn from. Physically, what should the sensor look like? What information should it present – and how – to help players? These questions couldn’t be answered through discussions in some office. Again and again, project members took to the court in field-testing and conducted research to incorporate feedback from coaches and tennis players. This work underscored the importance of play itself, which was a priority from the start. We sought a solution that wouldn’t interfere, but that players could take advantage of on the spot.
Above all, the sensor had to be unobtrusive. Attaching the sensor shouldn’t affect your swing at all. To keep the sensor out of the way, the first thing we considered was where to position it. Several ideas were suggested – on the frame, on the grip, and elsewhere – but the position where its negligible weight was least noticeable was at the end of the grip. It also took some trial-and-error by engineers and designers to devise a secure means of attachment. To prevent the sensor from affecting swings, we focused on its size and weight. Inside, an ideal layout was found for the circuitry, which halved the volume and yielded a sensor that’s only about 8 grams.
Everyone has their own swing, and everyone holds the racket a little differently. Even if you hold the racket on the end of the grip, the sensor’s shape won’t distract you. It’s rounded and as unobtrusive as possible as you hold the racket.
Tennis is often a fast-moving sport played outdoors. The sensor had to withstand tough conditions – sweat from players, strong sunlight, rain, and dust and dirt from the court. That’s why it’s sealed inside a rubbery pod. Not only does this protect the sensor from dust and water, it offers a smooth surface for players who grip the end of the racket. In this way, encasing the sensor in a supple pod makes it durable yet soft.
The tiny sensor also had to stay securely attached to the racket and track swings accurately even if the racket is dropped or hits some other object. But at the same time, it had to be easy for anyone to attach and remove. Here, we drew inspiration from charging cradles. By creating a handle adapter with a wrench-like structure for the sensor, we made attachment as easy as twisting the sensor in.
Physically, the sensor was essentially a lump of high technology. But to make using it more engaging out on the court, this one had to look a bit more exciting. Besides having a distinctive shape, it had to be the right color. When considering colors, we kept traditional tennis colors in mind – the green of many courts, and the fluorescent yellow of most balls, for example. Ultimately, we chose a vibrant orange. By examining a spectrum of color samples in slightly different hues, we found one that expresses the fun of tennis.