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Power Bat: Microsoft’s new AI-powered technology has much to be known about it; Anil Kumble, cricketer and founder Spektacom, explains its benefits

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New Delhi | Published: October 22, 2018 3:59:10 AM

Microsoft has been working closely with Spektacom and its founder Anil Kumble, former captain, Indian cricket team, to incubate and launch Power Bat, as part of its ScaleUp Program.

microsoft, anil kumblePeggy Johnson and Anil Kumble

Microsoft has been working closely with Spektacom and its founder Anil Kumble, former captain, Indian cricket team, to incubate and launch Power Bat, as part of its ScaleUp Program. Basically a sensor-based technology, the Power Bat provides players, coaches, commentators, fans and viewers with a unique way to engage with the sport and improve their game—all powered by the Microsoft Azure cloud platform using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) services. Broadcaster Star India has used the technology successfully in a recent series to provide real-time statistics and insights off the oval. “We are very excited to be a part of this initiative; it will definitely enhance the cricket experience for fans, players and coaches,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president, Microsoft, as she along with Kumble sat down with Sudhir Chowdhary to discuss Power Bat’s prospects in cricket and the expanding role of technology in the sports arena. Excerpts:

What is the Power Bat? What does it do?

Kumble: Power Bat is a sensor-based technology wherein, a small power sticker goes on to the bat. It’s non intrusive because it goes behind the sponsor sticker of any bat. Once you stick that you need to charge that and the charging can happen through any Qi charger that is available in the market; a typical charge takes about 90 minutes for it to last almost 48 hours.

Then you can use the bat and once you hit in a live match, we also have a stumpy which goes behind the stumps. We have created a receiver, thanks to Microsoft. The AI platform is built on that and we have the Azure platform residing on that and then that takes us to the cloud and that comes back into the broadcast. By means of a Bluetooth connection, we are able to connect the two and once you hit, every impact gets recorded on how the player has hit the ball, the bat’s speed, the twist when you hit the ball, how much was that angle and the quality of the shot, how close was the impact to the sweet spot and with all this, we derive the power of the shot. We have come up with a new unit of power called speks; we believe this will become synonymous with the batting power. We have been able to use the technology as a test case in Tamil Nadu Premier League along with Star India and are looking at getting exposure in the various leagues across the world and hopefully, one day in an international game.

Johnson: We have already seen the impact that connected devices have had in other industries, and we believe that with the advancements in our AI and cloud services, this is just the beginning of what’s possible for not only cricket, but all sports.

What is the opportunity you see in India?

Kumble: I think we are pretty much the first movers in this space. In terms of the market, I can only think of the IPL in terms of the audience for this year; 570 million people watched the IPL on TV, another 20 million Hotstar subscriptions for this format. So that’s a large market and there are 105 countries which play cricket. With Star Sports, the advantage is that it holds almost 80% of international matches under its expertise. And with the partnership with Microsoft, we have a global opportunity to reach out to other sports as well.

What is the role of Microsoft in the technology behind Power Bat?

Kumble: We are a part of its ScaleUp Program. We had a start-up and Microsoft has come forward and helped us in building up the features and given us the necessary support. We are probably a year into our association, and then we’ve been able to test case in a Tamil Nadu Premier League along with Star. So we have done all of that in a year’s time, which has been great for us.

Johnson: From our side, we see the Power Bat as a great example of using the power of the intelligent edge. There is intelligence out at the bat as well as the intelligent cloud and putting both of those together to do this real-time round trip of data—to me it was just the perfect example of how you can draw in fans even closer to the sport. I think it’s just a new level of fan experience.

How does this technology help cricketers, coaches and fans?

Kumble: It’s a great tool for fan engagement. Until now, we have seen the engagement mostly from different camera angles coming into play, spidercam, etc. But those are innovations that the broadcaster has brought in not necessarily from the equipment. The Power Bat provides players, coaches, commentators, fans and viewers with a unique way to engage with the sport and help improve their game. Using advanced analytics and AI services on Azure, real-time insights are captured through the stump box and displayed via the broadcaster. During practice or coaching, the same data can be viewed through a mobile app.

Is this technology going to go beyond cricket. If yes, how soon?

Johnson: It absolutely can and I think stick sports like baseball are some of the first ones it can move to, but embedding sensors into sports whether it’s running or American football or anything in between—just highlights what technology can do to improve the experience and I think we are going to see its usage in several other sports.

What is the importance of data analytics in sports?

Johnson: It can help when you are trying to increase the level of play. You can look at trends over time. You can use AI to reason across that data and find new insights that you don’t see when you are just looking at the physical part of it. Microsoft believes in leveraging its technology and its people to help sports teams and organisations solve their toughest challenges. By leveraging the company’s intelligent cloud and productivity solutions, sports organisations worldwide are connecting with fans, optimising team and player performance, and managing their operations in new, innovative ways.

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