Aussie sports startup Jetson changing the game one data point at a time

Jetson Industries has combined electronics and online gaming with traditional sports to collect movement data and provide insights to players, coaches, and fans.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian sport-focused R&D company Jetson Industries is hoping to change the way sport is consumed, giving those playing backyard cricket in rural Australia access to the same capabilities as those vying for the Ashes at Lords.

The idea is to embed equipment with chips that provide data on everything it possibly can for players to track their performance and also for fans to access the data in a gamified way.

Rather than attempting to reinvent the ball or trying to compete with companies that already manufacture equipment, the startup hailing from sunny Gold Coast is instead partnering with them.

"We have our specialist skills in the software and electronics space, but obviously these guys are specialists in making sports equipment ... we've said we'll do our bit, you do your bit, and together we'll end up with a great product that solves the problems that are in sport," Jetson Industries founder Ben Tattersfield told ZDNet.

"These really big companies are good at producing sports equipment but running and maintaining software and apps isn't their thing."

Jetson's first public announcement was made earlier this month, with the company developing a smart cricket ball in partnership with Australian sports equipment company Kookaburra.

The ball is embedded with a microchip to provide real-time feedback.

According to Kookaburra, the new ball will change the way cricket is coached, played, officiated, and experienced.

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The balls themselves are not smart; there is some edge processing using Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT architecture inside Jetson's gateway that basically sits on the sidelines.

The phone app acts as a middle man for data, it collects it, sends it to the cloud where all of the processing is performed before it's passed back to the phone.

"The moment the ball is bowled the data gets to the cloud, we work it out, and when the results are available, AppSync can basically pass it out to anyone that needs it," Tattersfield explained.

"The idea would be -- if you're in a stadium watching a cricket game, that data as it's available for the broadcaster, it's also available for you on the phone or on the sideline. It makes for a really light, affordable architecture -- but quick."

The electronic device inside the cricket ball has four movement sensors in it: Two accelerometers, a gyroscope, and a magnetometer. Tattersfield said this allows Jetson to basically measure anything that moves. Jetson's architecture doesn't care if it's a cricket ball or a lawn bowl.

"The good thing about us having the cloud computing for the algorithms is that a large number of our algorithms are machine learning-based as well, so we have both physics and machine learning when it comes to the application," he added.

"It's really just a matter of finding the problem or finding something that people are going to be interested in and then delivering that via the existing framework we have."

Tattersfield said his company spent a lot of time making sure it wasn't going to change the game at all, which meant the balls had to weigh the same, the bounce, the balance, the hardness, and everything else had to be no different to standard balls.

"Even the sound off the bat -- we needed to make sure that all of those things were the exact same so that as a player, nothing's changed and the data is actually of use to the player. That was a critical thing," he explained.

Sitting on the Jetson Industries board as a chairman is a former professional cricketer, who provides the company with what Tattersfield described as invaluable insight. Working with sportsmen and women also allows the company to have visibility over the problems previous technology had and it helps ensure the resulting tech actually helps the players, not just a gimmick for broadcast.


Cross-section of a smart golf ball

Image: Jetson Industries

Like any startup emerging in the 2010s, Tattersfield started Jetson as a side project out of his garage.

"I'm really bad at golf, really bad at it, and just wanted to be able to find my golf balls so I'd initially designed a little chip that we could put into a golf ball that made a noise so you could track it with your phone," he explained.

While the idea was there, those over the age of 40 couldn't hear the sound due to its frequency.

"So that ruined that idea," Tattersfield said.

Off the back of that, he moved onto the idea of movement sensors inside the ball to predict where it was going, instead of tracking it.

"I took that idea, pitched it to one of the big golf brands in the US, and they said, 'Great idea, but we make a lot of money selling golf balls to people who lose them'," he said.

"I realised really early on that I couldn't compete with -- I didn't have the knowledge of how to make the ball -- and I couldn't compete with the marketing budgets of the brands that are in the market already, so it was more about approaching them and saying, 'Here's all the market research about the problem'."

"That was basically how Kookaburra worked; once I got knocked back from golf I looked for another application, pitched it to Kookaburra and the timing was just great," he added, noting it also helped that the company possessed the Aussie "have a go" spirit, rather than a hierarchical multinational.

What Jetson has ended up with is a scalable system that's capable of TV broadcast right down to backyard cricket on the back of a wheelie bin.


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