Published on December 28th, 2013 | by Greg0
94Fifty: A Smart Basketball
We recently took a look at the Babolat Play system built into a tennis racquet- a set of sensors that worked with your smartphone to offer advice and statistics. Well, today we want to trade one court for another, and look at a completely different sport: basketball. As with the Play setup, the current package is built into into the ball itself, meaning you have to be very careful to not let those stray shots send your ball into the street.
The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is a great example of modern engineering, adding nine separate sensors to the ball, along with the necessary Bluetooth wireless module and the battery pack to run it all. You connect the ball for initial setup with a nifty charging pad, and it offers an eight hour battery life, so you can get in plenty of shots before needing to worry. The range is decent too, enough for most anywhere on the court, so your friends or coach can track the action on their smartphones while you’re dribbling or shooting. There’s not much latency either, meaning that the information shows up pretty quickly, allowing you to get instant feedback and adjust as needed.
The ball itself feels pretty good, solid, and balanced- we basically didn’t notice it was a smart ball in normal play, and it meets all regulations for weight and spin and bounce. Originally a successful Kickstarter project, the technology is now making it’s way into the hands of amateur and professional athletes, though the NBA hasn’t yet leapt on board encouraging “quantified dribbling”. The 94Fifty is different from your average pedometer or smart watch, in that it measure specific variables meant to inform, educate, and transform your game. For example, we liked the shot arc detection, which helps nudge you to improve the flight path of your attempts to between 42 and 48 degrees. Ours initially flew flat, lacking spin, both of which were picked up by our iPhone after we had downloaded and installed the free app (iOS only at the moment).
There’s many more features as well, like dribbling competitions and drills, as well as measurements of handling speed and force, presented in visually-appealing graphs with easy-to-grasp numbers. Of course, all of the data doesn’t help if you can’t act on it, and the 94Fifty isn’t going to replace Phil Jackson anytime soon. There are adaptive workouts and audio feedback, but it’s a bit hard to carry your smartphone with you on the court, and many of the places we play are loud enough that we couldn’t easily hear the audio (though we could use an external Bluetooth audio device for better volume). In addition, there are a few things you’ll have to get used to, like the unusual passing requirements that prime the ball to recognize shots. At first, our shots weren’t being counted, and we needed to consult a manual to figure out why. As you might expect, there are social media components too, that allow you to challenge friends. We need quite a bit more practice before we head to Facebook to brag.
The 94Fifty is available now in two sizes, at Apple stores and online directly. Expect to spend around $300.