This $150 Intel-powered bat sensor promises to transform cricket by making your bat smarter

Now that the ICC Champions Trophy is done and dusted, and yes, we lost, let’s talk about some of the new technology that Intel introduced this time around.

Now that the ICC Champions Trophy is done and dusted, and yes, we lost, let’s talk about some of the new technology that was introduced this time around. In particular, we’ll be taking a look at a brand new Intel Curie powered bat sensor and an enhanced VR experience for fans and coaches alike.

Intel invited us to try the technology for ourselves. This is what we’ve learned.

Before I delve into the details, however, a disclosure is in order. As horrifying as it sounds, I have to admit that I’ve never been much into cricket. I do love technology, which is why my focus here will be on the technology that’s at play here.

A new type of sensor

The bat sensor uses a coin-sized module, which is a computer of sorts, and it’s built on the Intel Curie platform. It’s a tiny, little thing, about the size of a coin, and can be attached to any bat in the market today.

Bat sensor 2 intel curie tech2 720

Intel describes Curie as “a computer the size of a button”, and a more apt description is hard to come by. An Intel Quark SoC, the platform that is powering Intel’s IoT efforts, including its smart city initiatives in India, powers the chip. The choice of Curie for a bat sensor was an obvious one. It’s tiny, consumes very little power and integrates a number of sensors into the module.

At the event, Anuj Dua, Director of Strategy and Business Development, New Technology Group at Intel Corporation, explained that cricket has always been at the forefront of adopting technology. He added that the sport is such that what can be measured, will be measured, it’s inevitable.

What’s Curie?

The Intel Curie-powered bat sensor is designed to sit on top of a cricket bat and measure a number of parameters associated with swinging the bat and hitting the ball. These measurements include the tie to impact, bat speed at impact, maximum bat speed, follow-through angle, backlift angle and impact angle.

The sensor itself weighs a mere 25g and in its testing, Intel and Specular, the company building and selling the sensor, found that most batsmen who tried the sensor did not even notice the weight. Some, apparently, even liked the added weight, however slight it might be.

The data collected by the sensor is significant to coaches and batsman alike, because it can provide data that was hitherto impossible to gather without an assortment of very expensive equipment.

Intel and ICC spokespersons tell us that data, such as the speed of the bat at impact, is very important as it lets players and coaches know if they’re timing the ball correctly. Ideally, a batsman should be hitting the ball when the bat’s angular velocity is peaking.

Creating algorithms

Intel tells us that creating the sensor was the easy part. Analysing the data, creating algorithms to determine a batsman’s actions, etc. took some time and a lot of effort. The sensors had to be calibrated, for example, and this involved tools like motion capture and analysis. A lot of “noise” also had to be eliminated. This noise refers to irrelevant sensor data. A batsman will, for example, tap the pitch or swing his bat at random, the algorithm must be taught to ignore this input.

Image: Intel

Image: Intel

The algorithm was weaved into an app, which receives the raw data from the sensor and then analyses it. The data itself is wirelessly transmitted to a phone. This happens over ultra-wide-band radio as regular Bluetooth just doesn’t have the range or reliability. Some batsmen in the Champions Trophy, in fact, used the device. Since they don’t carry their phones with them, their sensors stored the data for later use.

The onboard battery can power the device for two sessions lasting 3-7 hours and the device can store 50 matches worth of data.

The social angle

Atul Srivastava, CEO of Specular said that engineers at his company got the idea for the sensor from coaches and players, whose primary complaint was, “I have all the data to tell me when I get out, not how to improve my game,” according to Srivastava.

Intel Curie bat sensor Ind-Pak Birmingham ICC 720

The sensor itself isn’t a new concept. Sensors like the Zepp are seeing increasing use in Golf, and the bat sensor is very similar. In fact, the bat sensor is only different because the algorithms are designed for cricket.

Working with the sensor and the app, you can mark your best shot, save the data, share it on social media and more. The company hopes that a competitive social ecosystem can be built around the device.

The data itself will remain secure, says Srivastava. Nothing will be shared unless you want it to be shared. This will ensure that a player’s batting prowess remains a secret. Rival teams will not have access to each other’s data.

The best part, says Intel, is that this data and sensor can be used in VR (Virtual Reality) simulations. For example, you can face Dale Steyn’s bowling style from the comfort of a VR headset. Equipped with the sensor, a bat can act as a VR accessory. Any movement the bat makes is represented in VR.

Price and availability

The sensor itself isn’t cheap. It’s expected to retail at $150 a unit globally and at Rs 10,000 in India. That’s a steep price to pay for an individual, but cricket coaching centres and the like are seeing its potential, thinks Srivastava. The sensor will be available worldwide from August 2017.

The device’s accuracy in measurement is estimated to be about 90 percent, but Srivastava says that the point of the device isn’t accuracy, but to measure if you’re making progress.

Disclaimer: This correspondent was invited by Intel to attend the event in Birmingham, UK. Intel was responsible for the flights, accommodation and other related expenditure.

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