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Original Issue

Ball Coach

A sensor-filled rock can polish your game


Say what you want about your smartphone: At least it doesn't chastise you for your on-court shortcomings in a voice that sounds eerily like the president of the United States. Until now. With the 94Fifty basketball—named for the dimensions of a regulation court—a company called Infomotion has created a training tool that's both useful and, frankly, really cool. Under the skin of the ball are nine sensors, each about the size of quarter, a circuit board, battery pack and Bluetooth relay. "There's the equivalent of a missile-guidance system in there," says Infomotion CEO Mike Crowley. "The sensors are processing what's happening and spitting out the results in a hundred milliseconds." The ball might have been developed sooner, in fact, but Bluetooth, which has been around for years, wasn't yet reliable enough to stream data from the sensors to an app on a PDA. (An earlier version of the ball relied on Wi-Fi, which severely limited its use.)

Now, after a Kickstarter campaign raised more than $100,000, the ball has hit the market. The sensors allow it to measure the backspin and arc of a shot (but, alas, not if it went in), which comes in especially handy with younger players. More technologically impressive are the ballhandling analyses. "Not only can the sensors count the number of times something is happening, but the algorithms and software will discern how well you're doing it against a standard of statistics we've collected over years," says Crowley. Hence, if a drill requires you to dribble in a series of figure eights in a specific time, you can't just pound the ball on the floor and trick the sensors. If the ball doesn't move in just the right way, the disembodied Obamaesque voice in the app will call you out on it.

So where will the mini missile technology take hoopsters next? Since the firmware that controls the chips can be upgraded wirelessly, new drills and programs can be added to the app whenever they are developed. Infomotion is also working on a live-game experience in which the ball is used in competition, allowing coaches, broadcasters and fans to track data via second-screen. And balls used for other sports—including soccer—are in the works.

$295; 94FIFTY.COM

The sensors charge while the ball—which comes in regulation men's and women's sizes—is on its pedestal.

Players are given goals in each shooting and ballhandling drill.

The app tracks a player's progress through levels that increase in difficulty.