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What a Racket!

Sensors will enable Babolat tennis rackets to return data, as well as balls.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 01, 2012—French tennis equipment manufacturer Babolat is developing a racket that will use sensors and a smartphone application to report on how well or poorly players are hitting the ball. The racket will use microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors developed by Movea, a company that specializes in wireless motion sensors. "We think this is the future of sports," says Dave Rothenberg, Movea's marketing manager.

The racket, called Play&Connect, will have a printed circuit board and small battery inserted into its handle. The MEMS sensors will reside on the circuit board, with a microcontroller, analog-to-digital converter, power management IC and Bluetooth transceiver. The sensors will determine the moment of impact, impact location (whether you hit the ball on the racket's sweet spot), and racket position. The system will determine how the racket is moving before and after impact, and whether the ball was hit with backspin or topspin.

Photo: Babolat Play & Connect

The system will use onboard algorithms to analyze the sensor signals, and will send the data from the sensors to a smartphone or tablet application via Bluetooth. The software analysis will tell you, for example, what percentage of shots were hit with slice, versus flat or with topspin. And it will tell you how consistently you are hitting shots on the sweet spot. The application will run on any computer, so players can download the data for additional analysis and share it with playing partners.

The racket is expected to sell for $100 more than conventional high-end tennis rackets, which typically retail for $150 or more. Babolat plans to produce 200 test/demo rackets before the end of this year for professional players. The racket will go into mass production starting in the first half of next year.

Rothenberg envisions the on-court and onscreen worlds merging eventually. "Imagine downloading Rafael Nadal's data and your own for a video game match via your set-top box," he says. "That's where I see this going."

Movea is working on a similar system for golf clubs and other sports. Unfortunately, Rothenberg says, the sensors will not help you hit a perfect shot every time.
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