This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with Matt Sapsworth, founder of Perth startup VisionBall.

Matt Sapsworth

Photo taken from VisionBall

Why VisionBall? What motivated you to build a business around capturing sports video from the ball’s perspective?

It was probably one of those typically cliched light-bulb moments, sitting watching a Wildcats basketball game I think, and I might have also just seen a motorsports broadcast where a camera was located in the car, and
put two and two together and thought well why can’t a video camera be located inside the action of this basketball game. The same opportunity to capture a different perspective of the game will then be available.

And then of course I realise lots of sports embed cameras in the action, stump cam in cricket is an example, but it is most common in sports and adventure activities where cameras are located on helmets, such as
skydiving, base jumping, mountain bike riding etc. And then there is Spidercam which is the cable suspended camera system you often see at large sporting events, or goal cameras in soccer matches and Aussie Rules
games. Last year the AFL even put camera embedded sunglasses on their goal umpires.

So I realise that broadcasters and their viewers want to get as close to the action as possible. So why not apply this same principle to the most popular sports on the planet, Aussie Rules footy, soccer, American football, basketball, netball and rugby and put the camera right in the middle of the action and inside the ball.

You’ve found a documented attempt to put a camera into an American football in 1938, what’s the story there? Did it work?

Yes, the 1938 Popular Mechanics article. What looks like a rather large film camera sitting in the middle of a wooden ball, which itself looks more like a round soccer ball than an oblong American football. Imagine trying to throw or kick that?

But you have to admire their attempt. And unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any further information on it but I know that even with the modern technology available to me and the technical hurdles I face I can appreciate that capturing any worthwhile footage would have been very difficult at that time.

How do you envision people using VisionBall? What are some creative uses for the footage people will collect?

I’ve had a lot of fun so far with the development of some basic prototypes across all the sports I am targeting and believe that VisionBall has enormous potential to capture sporting action from a unique perspective.
Whether it be from a basketball as it is falling through the hoop, or from a soccer ball as it is fired at a goalkeeper, or from the rugby ball as it is being passed through a scrum, or from an footy as it is kicked through for a goal, the possibilities are endless.

And personally I like that you will be able to see the faces of the athletes as they are playing the sport. See them grimace, sweat, curse, smile… all up close and personal. I am also impressed by the opportunities to display still images as well. It’s being able to capture a sporting moment from an angle that gives the viewer a unique and exciting view of the sporting action.

I am also enthusiastic about the interactive nature of VisionBall. Being able to choose whether to view the sport from the traditional external camera angle, or from the perspective of the ball. See for an example of an interactive basketball VisionBal experience. This puts the viewer in control of how they want to view the sport.

Where the true potential of VisionBall lies is that it embeds the audience inside these sports and gives the viewer an up close and personal view of the action. It puts the viewer inside the action and allows the viewer to experience the game from the focal point of the game, the ball itself. It makes the viewer the focal point of the game. Which is why the VisionBall motto is “Be the Ball”.

How will they be used in professional games?

I see that VisionBall will be used in the same way embedded motorsports cameras are used, or stump cams, or goal cams, or Spidercams, in that VisionBall will compliment the traditional broadcast of the sport. VisionBall will add that embedded camera perspective into the broadcast of the most popular sports on the planet and give their viewers the same exciting visual opportunities that a lot of other sports and activities have long enjoyed.

With current technology I will be aiming to record an entire game using VisionBall onto storage inside the ball then this video footage is extracted for processing and used for replays or highlights of the game.

And with future improvements in the technology I use I envisage that VisionBall footage will be able to b broadcast in real time along with the normal broadcast of the game. And with future high speed internet access viewers will be able to change their view of the game in real time from the traditional camera view to VisionBall.

It seems like there must be a few technical challenges to embedding cameras in balls. Basketballs are bounced on hard surfaces, for example. How do you overcome these?

Oh yes, many technical challenges. The good thing is they are obvious and able to be overcome. And in the long run very much worth the effort.

Typically an Aussie Rules football weighs 400g, and the cameras I add to the ball weigh 100g. So my challenge is to reduce the weight of the combined ball/camera package to 400g. Very achievable.

And of course I also need to ensure the look and feel of a VisionBall ball is exactly the same as a normal sporting ball as well as ensure that cameras are concealed and protected. This is a big challenge as the simple
design of these sporting balls also makes their modification quite difficult. At the moment it’s a process of testing, learning, modifying and testing again. And so far I have learned how I need to not only redesign the ball for my requirements but also the best specifications for the cameras so that they capture the sporting action at an optimal quality.

So hopefully with some future investment and using what I have learned I will be able to develop a VisionBall that feels and performs exactly as a normal ball, only that it has video cameras embedded in it. The possibilities once VisionBall is ready and able to be used will be quite exciting.

You’te running a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible – what will the funds be used for?

Yes. I have completed versions one and two of VisionBall and have been very pleased with the results. I would like to develop versionthree which is a more robust version of VisionBall and test it with a wide range of enthusiastic supporters. I have specific camera requirements and plan to use the bulk of any funds raised to purchase thes cameras, as well as balls and various other equipment requirements.

The crowdfunding campaign is also an opportunity to get VisionBall out in the public and have it tested thoroughly as well as gather feedback on whether embedding cameras in a sporting ball is something that people want to see. And I am hoping that is the case.

Check out some of Matt’s VisionBall videos here: