Human and technological diversity opens up new possibilities in sports entertainment business - SSE-TN1 Smart Tennis Sensor -

Case:06 Human and technological diversity opens up new possibilities in sports entertainment business - SSE-TN1 Smart Tennis Sensor - The first new product from Sony's sports entertainment business, the Smart Tennis Sensor, progressed steadily towards realization with the help of various inputs from people of all sexes, nationalities and viewpoints. We interviewed several people about the background to development from the perspective of Sony's diversity environment.

Sony's sports business sprang from a small idea

Nakanishi : Sony is constantly on the lookout for new businesses as it moves ahead with developing and expanding products, applications and services designed to enrich various aspects of our daily lives. Our latest Smart Tennis Sensor is one example of this kind of new business. It all started when Matsunaga-san saw various sports-related products and services on display at an exhibition designed to encourage technological exchanges within the company. At the time, it was little more than the embodiment of an idea and the unit was much bigger than the latest model, but I thought it was feasible the moment I saw it. I then started work aimed at commercializing the product and, in the process of studying ways of deploying and applying the technology to a broader range of areas, began to see the possibility of expanding it to other sports, not just tennis, in line with the concept of offering true Sony-like value. This resulted in the establishment of the sports entertainment business to which we now belong.

Matsunaga : I was originally involved in developing music analysis technology, but wondered whether it could be utilized in other areas. I got the hint from tennis, which I started playing after joining the company. I thought that if I could analyze the tennis racket's vibration and visualize the point of impact when hitting the ball, it should be possible to improve one's play more effectively. It was an idea that grew out of a hobby, and I created a prototype with help from senior colleagues at Sony. When I demonstrated it at the technology exchange event, many people were kind enough to say the idea was interesting. Nakanishi-san, my senior in the tennis club, approached me at the event, and we started working towards commercializing it together.

Happy users give the project momentum

Nakanishi : Naturally, we faced many hurdles when we started setting up the business. The fact that sports are not a familiar area for Sony made things even more difficult. In order to establish a consensus within the company, we decided it would be a good idea to start by showing management how the product really made its users happy. This meant demonstrating how children enjoyed themselves playing tennis, and how professional coaches would use the product. To explore the possibilities, we asked the families of tennis coaches among our acquaintances to use the prototypes, and took videos. We then showed Hirai-san and other members of top management how people actually using the tennis sensor enjoyed themselves. They were amazed at how much fun tennis became, and the conversation got really lively as they wondered what might happen with other sports. The project made major progress on the back of the idea that it should be possible to offer various people new experiences in other sports genres, not just tennis, and perhaps help to demonstrate Sony's potential in other areas of sports.

Tennis Sensor's potential boosted by input from players

Matsunaga : In developing the Tennis Sensor, we found that one of the most important factors was listening to the varied opinions of actual tennis players from inside and outside the company. Initially, for example, we only considered measuring the spot where the racket first hits the ball, and the types of swing. However, many players told us they wanted to know the speed of the racket swing, and the speed at which the racket hit the ball, as well as the ball's rotation rate. To be honest, we thought it would be technically difficult to measure data in that sort of detail, but despite a struggle, we eventually managed it. It's quite likely we would not have been able to develop such functions if we had based our development work on in-house opinions only. I think we greatly broadened the potential by incorporating the opinions of players so proactively.

Using global resources for players around the world

Forrest : Tennis is enjoyed around the world. In order to encourage as many people as possible to use this product, we therefore incorporated opinions on design from various nationalities during the development process. For example, Japanese and American players differ not only in physical attributes such as size and power, but also in terms of thinking and culture. Many approaches that are considered common sense in Japan would not work in the United States. To prevent any such divergences from occurring, we involved employees from Europe, North America, and Asia, as well as from Japan, in developing the UI design used in the tennis sensor. By consulting designers from many countries for their opinions and making repeated improvements from a variety of viewpoints, we sought to develop an interface that was easy for tennis players from all over the world to use. We also prepared videos on how to use the product featuring men and women of various races to create an image of a global product that everyone can enjoy. By making the most of Sony's global resources, we have managed to raise the diversity embodied in the Tennis Sensor to a higher level.

Development workplace encourages proactive adoption
of the views of women and younger people

Kuroda : My participation in the Smart Tennis Sensor project also began with the technology exchange event. I've always liked sports, and I wanted to participate in this project as soon as I saw that the product displayed involved sports. I was working hard on TV software design at the time, but I told my colleagues that I'd like to get involved in this project some day. Some time later, I transferred to the Application Development Department of the Sports Entertainment Business office following an introduction from a senior colleague in my department. I was delighted.

To make the team as diverse as possible, the manager asked me to join so that I can provide opinions from the perspective of both a woman and a young person. The work is really rewarding because my own opinions are always valued. I am currently working on improving the application based on opinions received from customers who have bought our product. I have also started to develop new functions based on proposals for new ways of enjoying the Smart Tennis Sensor. The Smart Tennis Sensor continues to evolve as we flexibly incorporate opinions from all sorts of people.

Opening up new possibilities in human and technological diversity

Nakanishi : I believe diversity should put down roots naturally, and not be treated as a target. For Sony, there is nothing particularly special about incorporating various opinions into the development process as we have done on this occasion. Whenever we venture into a new area, I think it is important to adhere to this approach and continue to propose products of the sort that only Sony can create.

Matsunaga : There are many forms of diversity from a technological perspective, too. It was a long journey from the initial idea through until the product took shape, but we were subsequently able to perfect the product in a relatively short time because we could draw on the strengths of technical specialists in a wide range of areas, from hardware and software to manufacturing. The variety of technologies that we have fostered represents one of the aspects of diversity that only Sony possesses.

Forrest : I'm probably the oldest member of this project team. But I have to keep my wits about me even though I may be a veteran. Working in Sony's diversity-based environment is always stimulating, and we are constantly required to take up new challenges. This is one of Sony's main strengths in the area of product development, and is what makes my work worthwhile.

Kuroda : At Sony, we never say someone cannot participate because they are too young, or that we cannot delegate tasks to women. When I tell my supervisor that I aim to become an engineer who can put forward ideas, I am given plenty of the work and opportunities necessary to achieve that goal. They respond to the initiatives taken up by young employees and provide support. I believe this sort of environment is the best part of diversity at Sony.