Whether it’s a large enterprise or a startup, partnerships tend to develop at some point in a company’s growth cycle. The former, given its scope, has numerous ways in which to penetrate certain markets and its segments. The latter hopes to create a place for itself among the bigger players in a space or one that’s yet to be in a matured state.
For IBM Watson and three sports tech startups, there’s more behind the surface insofar as fostering a mutually beneficial synergy.
Recently, IBM announced a triumvirate set of partnerships with sports tech startups that will tap into cognitive computing–aiming to advance the pertinent sports-focused verticals involved.
“Watson’s ability to interact in natural language, analyze large volumes of unstructured data, respond to complex questions with evidence-based answers, and discover new actionable patterns and insights makes it uniquely suited for the domain of sports,” Lauri Saft, Vice President of IBM Watson Ecosystem, tells SportTechie, with regards to what IBM offers and its positioning to enter the sports realm.
“The reality is, sports is an industry that’s becoming more scientifically dependent of data and numbers to improve the health and performance of both amateur and elite athletes,” added Saft.
The IBM Watson Ecosystem has grown to more than 350 startups and companies–ranging from industries like retail, healthcare, financial services, legal, education, and now sports–that are embedding cognitive computing APIs and services into their respective businesses across 17 industries and disciplines. While the prevalent technological systems today are programmed, cognitive-based technologies present the avenue for more constructs that can learn, understand, and reason.
These latest partnerships, though, asseverate IBM’s commitment to propelling the adoption of sophisticated analytics in sports. Over the past two decades-plus, IBM has leveraged its cutting-edge technologies to improve the player, coaching, and fan experiences. Their use cases include helping mitigate player injuries, delivering real-time scores, and analyzing the Twitterverse for maximizing fan engagement. What’s more, as of late, Watson has been adopted by Edge Up Sports and ORRECO to transform fantasy football and athletic training, respectively.
It’s through the Watson Developer Cloud, where anyone–whether a sports enthusiast or an established company–can start building apps using Watson APIs.
“In fact, we have more than 77,000 developers globally, currently, piloting, testing, and deploying new business ideas,” Saft states.
“When companies become a Watson Ecosystem partner and move towards commercializing their apps, they join a community where they get access to Watson technology, brand exposure, a network of IBM technical, marketing, business development support, and potentially an investment from IBM’s asset fund,” continued Saft.
So, by creating apps that learn from experience, improve with each interaction and outcome, and respond to difficult questions with data-based insights, IBM’s partners should benefit from a certain level of competitive advantage and deliver solutions that meet the needs of their respective marketplace.
Watson, thus, is open to the world, allowing a growing ecosystem of developers, students, entrepreneurs, and techies to simply tap into one of the most advanced and diverse cognitive computing platform out there. Originally starting as one natural language QA API, now more than 25 Watson services are available on the IBM Watson Developer Cloud via Bluemix; and the number of services continues to grow. These services are powered by over 50 underlying technologies that allow innovators to discover, explore, and create a new wave of applications and businesses.
Saft elaborates on the importance of the APIs available: “The APIs draw on advances in natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning, which are gained from homegrown IBM innovations and strategic acquisitions in order to provide capabilities that span language, speech, vision, and data insights. Developers can also bring their own data to many of the services, to help train Watson about a specific domain or industry–like sports–and customize API models to speed up and simplify the development of cognitive apps.”
Accordingly, these competences offered by Watson are powered into the following three sports tech startups: Triax Technologies, Spare5, and 113 Industries.
Triax innovates, develops, manufactures, and markets products designed specifically to meet the emerging needs of athletes; and those who are involved ensuring their health and safety. Their Triax Smart Impact Monitor is a wearable sensor embedded in headbands or skullcaps that tracks the force and frequency of head impacts during play, empowering parents, coaches, and athletic trainers with the tools to improve player safety and refine technique in real-time. By utilizing a Watson language service, this device can factor in more diverse data sources to analyze sentiment and infer cognitive as well as social characteristics to provide a more holistic view of athlete safety and performance.
For instance, if an athlete showcases risk-taking behavior on their social media accounts, the athletic trainer can monitor that player to ensure he or she is using proper form. One early adopter that has leveraged this technology to propel their training is two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach.
Spare5 is creating a cognitive app called “Watson Pro Golf,” which harnesses Watson’s deep learning, natural language, and vision capabilities to act as personal caddy that amateur players can consult while at the driving range or course. Based on the corpus knowledge about mechanics and drills obtained from contracted golf professionals, coupled with Watson’s ability to “see” a user’s golf swing, it will enable the app to provide feedback on how to implement better fundamentals. The Watson-powered app can also deliver information and feedback in the right tone based on learning the nuanced personality of the user, intended to better motivate the player to learn and take action.
113 Industries is working with the Pittsburgh Penguins to change the gameday experience for hockey fans. Through leveraging 113 Industries’ “Pi” service embedded with Watson’s natural language cognitive capabilities, the Penguins can analyze large volumes of fan-generated data to develop specialized offers and services for fans visiting the CONSOL Energy Center. This function can range anywhere from the concessions, to merchandise, and to the pregame and postgame entertainment.
For example, by applying cognitive computing to marketing, the Penguins will be equipped with the insights needed to tap into the growing millennial demographic in Pittsburgh, communicating with fans in various ways–crafting a more enjoyable experience all the way around for repeat visits.
Considering that none of the major sports governing bodies offer a developer relations program, APIs from sports entities are hard to come by to begin with. Developers are forced to work with third-party providers that have approved use–since open APIs are not readily available. IBM Watson presents an avenue for startups to build their respective auxiliary businesses surrounding sports, potentially positioning them to be among the preferred vendors for sports teams and leagues.
“Cognitive computing allows IBM’s partners, like Triax Technologies, 113 Industries, and Spare5, to unlock their data’s full potential,” says Saft, with regards to the role of AI to power innovation forward.