The story of this Israeli startup could be the setting for the next TV hit: Imagine three Israeli partners in big tech companies since leaving the military, where they worked on weapons and war simulators top-secrets. After taking advantage of this experience in 15 years of building technology sold to some of the world’s largest defense customers, they started looking for something new.
One of the partners, Evgeni Khazanov, came up with the new idea while watching his young daughter play tennis. Why didn’t such a top-level sport, built on billions, have advanced tools to help young club players learn from their own mistakes in order to play better?
He and his buddies combined heads and took the “brains” of military simulation technologies and adapted them to tennis. The result: Play on sight, a company that makes kiosk-sized units that record and analyze movement, giving players quick online feedback on how to improve their game.
The company’s SmartCourt unit sits on the sidelines following the movements of both players and the ball, using five cameras strategically placed around the pitch.
While the system can’t turn someone with a racquet into Federer or 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 meet individual specifications at a higher cost.
Designed for all sports
United States today recently called SmartCourt a “game changer” and not just jokingly. The company has eight systems currently operating in courts in the United States and plans to sell 4,000 by 2018.
The idea transforms the partners’ experience of building simulators into a more user-friendly game. They started with tennis, but the system – which can also tell if a ball was “in” or “out” – can be adapted to virtually any sport.
“Recording the game on video is no problem. This has been done for years, ”Shachar says. “We don’t just record, but analyze the positions and movements of the players. We can also take statistics and tell a player after the game how far they have come and what their unforced errors have been.
The idea of having computer software to unravel the who’s who in a football scrum is a bit complicated at the moment, but it’s the mission –– to provide an automated tool to help players and their coaches identify the points to work on, Shachar explains.
“It’s like a mirror used in the dance world,” he told ISRAEL21c.
SmartCourt costs approximately $ 10,000 per unit. Customers 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 betting 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. A planned feature will allow them to share their videos on social networks and theoretically with traditional television networks.
Another Israeli product, ACE IntelliGym, also relies on military know-how – in this case, flight simulation software – to train basketball and hockey players to perform better. The cognitive training developed in Israel is widely used by gamers, from professionals to peewees.
The match point
PlaySight was founded in 2010 in Kfar Saba, Israel. The 11-year-old was funded by around $ 2.1 million and is now seeking a new round of investment. In 2014, the company plans to open a sales office in New York and another in London.
It looks like the ball is in their court, as Shachar explains how the International Tennis Federation agreed to allow such systems in professional games – not as a coach or for real-time feedback for players, but as a way for professional players to review and improve their game after the game.
This is an interesting development for pro tennis, as it is the only sport where coaches are not allowed on the court to advise their players for the duration of the match. “They want to keep him like two gladiators against each other, I guess,” Shachar said.
SmartCourt will never replace a good coach, but it will give coaches a better tool to understand how professional games can be better played, once the game is over.
What happens next? Keep an eye out for the dribbling ball. PlaySight is currently developing a product for the basketball court.
Learn more about PlaySight here: www.playsight.com