The story of how Jetson Industries came to be is one of much tinkering and perseverance.
Ben Tattersfield, the company’s CEO had spent years testing the strength and viability of putting electronics within balls to be able to locate them and have its data delivered to users. He tested such an idea inside golf balls before making a commercial breakthrough with cricket balls.
The smart ball maker puts minute sensors into the core of a cricket ball or golf ball which captures data on speed, direction and spin. The ball can connect to other devices so players, coaches, even broadcasters can obtain this data immediately.
Jetson Industries is now helping to solve problems for sport retailers and manufacturers by utilising IoT, and combining it with gamification and online gaming.
Over two parts, the company has had a turbulent time but have recovered strongly. Rogue investors and an uphill battle to gain credibility for their technology has seen them come through the other side with their product to be launched into market this year.
Bullpen: Can you describe what guides your product suite – jCore Smart Ball, jBase and jBat – in a bit more detail?
Ben Tattersfield: “In most sports the ball is what the game is centralised around. The ball you could say is the ‘source of truth’. We’re capturing movement data using a method called inertial navigation systems. We’re measuring how much force is applied to it, the spin, the direction.
“I explain it like a sniper in the army, they use a bullet trajectory algorithm, they know how much force is behind the bullet, the rotation of the bullet, the wind direction and they’re predicting where that bullet is going to go. That’s one of the algorithms we use, based off a ballistics algorithm, but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff because that ball is a source of truth in the game then we can connect the other devices. For example a wristband that the players can wear so we can associate exactly who has the ball, caught the ball, threw the ball. Same as the bat, we can recognise who hit the ball, LBW rulings and so on.
“From there we can start to automate and make an umpires or referees job simpler – no more unwilling parents dragged into being umpire or scorer, no more school yard arguments over LBWs or edged catches and most importantly – that mate who kicks his golf ball out from behind the tree when he thinks no one is looking is going to get caught every time now.”
BP: Anyone could officiate themselves.
BT: “We call it the jBase but it could be something like a little cone in the middle of the field, it’s concept being the central hub that is connecting to everything, it can monitor where a player is on the field. Take baseball for example, it knows that a particular player hit the ball as their unique ID was closest to the ball at the point of impact and their bat vibrated, then we’ve seen that its recognised that they’ve run past first base and first base is recognised with the impact, it’s been stood on, and they’re now standing on second base. We can capture this data through this meshed network of connected sports equipment.”
BP: You can see how this might unfold from a broadcast point of view.
BT: “Exactly, a big part of our business model is that our system is API based. Anyone that wants access to that data can get it and they can build their own apps. In our pitch deck we’ve got all these opportunities for the use of the data. There’s a deep library of data that we can hold and we can API it out to player management software companies or talent scouts, broadcasters or sport scientists.”
BP: Where did you take inspiration from to develop IoT focused sports products?
BT: “There’s a little story behind that, I’m a really shit golfer!”
BP: Me too! I’m no good either.
BT: “Not that I was hitting balls into the water, I just lost sight of them and couldn’t find them again. Someone in the playing group said surely someone has made a golf ball finder that syncs to your phone. I did some research and there were a couple of Kickstarter’s that raised some money but nothing came of it. I contacted those guys to find out why their products had failed and that’s how it began.”
BP: How did the products and company build from there?
BT: “My background is in marketing, marketing sales and specifically around the digital space. I’ve been in a couple of other start-ups and had a start-up of my own that had failed for various reasons.
“From a marketing perspective I started doing research, I had a list of things that could mean that the product wouldn’t work and asked if I could make a ball that could be found via Bluetooth. I basically came out with this model, it was validated and theoretically it said it could work, went out and did some market research and ran some Facebook ads.
“My goal was to get a hundred surveys back but I ended up receiving 700 responses. The feedback was impressive but the one thing overwhelmingly that people were interested in was competing with each other and fellow players. By applying gamification with data you can measure stroke by stroke, who hit the longest tee shot, the best tee shot on each hole on that day or who has the record for the longest tee shot.”
BP: How did the idea start taking shape?
BT: “After speaking to a few other start-ups and researching problem areas of the product. One of the big problems is impact. A golf ball accelerating from zero to 300kph in 1/100th of a second is a huge amount of force. That’s the first challenge, protecting the electronics from the impact. I studied whitepapers, contacted researchers who produced whitepapers to discuss their findings, basically ended up with coming up with this silicone ceramic material that we now have a pending patent on which protects the electronics from impact.
“That product is what we sell to the B2B manufacturers and because I focused on golf, I designed everything to be as small, light and flexible as possible. It’s ideal because it fits into any larger sport product. That was a little bit by accident, focusing on golf I picked the hardest application and that made rolling it out to other sports really simple.”
BP: Then how did you end up testing the physically testing the product?
BT: “The golf ball was the core focus and helped me to develop the proof of concept. For me, once it answered those problems on impact survival, size, did the Bluetooth work inside the ball. To reach that point I contacted a golf ball manufacturer who had sent me some balls that were cut in half and hollowed out.
“I put in a Bluetooth key tracker, put it inside my golf ball with the protective silicone and glued it all together. From there, I took it down to a golf shop with their golfing simulator and had their in-house pro hit shots as hard as he could multiple times. That was really the first prototype unit was proving that the silicone could protect the electronics from impact.
“By aiming and focusing on golf for a year and a half of research, I accidentally solved the majority of problems that were facing golf and other sports as well.
“With my findings, I started contacting the big golf ball manufacturers. As a start-up you can’t go in expecting to take on the big golf companies. The idea is not something you take to market, it’s something you sell or licence to one of the existing companies. I started contacting their R&D department, putting my ideas to them, sending emails and LinkedIn messages until I finally made some headway.
“I then repeated the process by putting the tech into cricket balls, looked at who were the big cricket manufacturers. This moved really quickly. I got a bite from one of the big players in the industry within two days from sending an email, had a meeting and a handshake agreement to carry on discussing the idea and in six months had a commercial agreement in place.”
BP: Amazingly swift response and a desire to engage you to make a commercial arrangement.
BT: “Without them saying it, it was pretty obvious I’d hit the nail on the head in terms of understanding a particularly pain point they, and the sport, was facing in product innovation.
“A big part of it is showing the amount of work I had done and the way it was done gave them the credibility that I knew how to solve those problems. It was also them taking a gamble in me, my idea and that I could deliver. A huge reason I secured this deal was that I’d convinced them I was worth taking a gamble on, and it’s both a great honour and a huge responsibility to take on as a small start-up.”
BP: Are you in a position to target international markets?
BT: “I’ve structured the business so that we utilise our partners brand, existing market share and sales channels to quickly go international. It’s much easier to ride the wave of a well-known brand than to go out and try and compete with them. This has been validated as our roll out for the cricket ball has seen us partner up with one of the world’s leading cricket ball manufacturers, so we hit the market around the world when we launch, not just in Australia.
“I’d initially designed the product for grassroots sports – your typical players like you and me. We quickly got interest from the elite side of sport and that is where the product will launch initially, but the cool part is the technology is ready to go into every layer – social, schools, universities, clubs. We’ve made sure the product is priced so everyone can get their hands on a ball with the goal of encouraging people to get active and engage in the new digital sporting community we’re building.”