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Pitt professor's idea spawns company to track baseball players' batting efforts

| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Diamond Kinetics officers, Jeffrey Schuldt, chief commercial officer; C.J. Handron, CEO; William Clark, founder (from left) at their North Shore headquarters on Thursday June 12, 2014. Diamond Kinetics Inc.is a startup technology company that’s developing hardware and software to analyze the swings of baseball and softball players.

As a coach for Little League softball and baseball, William Clark said players and their parents often asked for his advice about selecting a bat and improving their swings.

The mechanical engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh had no good answers until he began working on a mathematical formula about 10 years ago that would help him calculate the correct bat for each player.

“I got to thinking, ‘It's a physics problem,' ” said Clark, who specializes in motion and dynamics.

Figuring out that problem became the basis for a North Side startup company he co-founded in 2012. Diamond Kinetics is preparing to debut its first product, a sensor pack that attaches to the bottom end of a bat and transmits swing data to a smartphone app.

Called SwingTracker, the sensor-app package gives baseball and softball players the kind of data that would have been available only with expensive motion-capture technology used to make movies and video games.

“Unless you have really expensive camera equipment, it's only a notion in the coach's mind,” Clark said of the precise motion and speed of the bat during a swing. “Now we can quantify it.”

The device measures bat speed, angle of the bat when it hits the ball, hand speed and position, time between starting the swing and making contact with the ball, and other parameters, he said. Those measurements can be benchmarked against other players and tracked over time to gauge improvements with training.

SwingTracker will be available for pre-order through Diamond Kinetics' website starting July 1. The company expects to begin shipping the $149 device this fall, CEO C.J. Handron said.

Handron met Clark at Pitt, where Handron was running Pantherlab Works, a center that helps entrepreneurs bring technology to market. Clark, who remains a full-time professor, sought help turning his idea for SwingTracker into a company.

Diamond Kinetics hopes to sell the device in sporting goods stores, he said. For now it is marketing the product at baseball and softball training facilities, where the company can reach serious amateur players — the kind with parents who spend upward of $10,000 a year on equipment, coaching and travel, he said.

Chris Bardakos, player development director for Core Athletics, a West Deer company that coaches and trains amateur baseball players, saw early versions of SwingTracker and thinks it could be useful for players.

“I've never used anything like this that could give you this kind of data,” said Bardakos, a coach for 18 years. Diamond Kinetics tested SwingTracker with more than 50 of Bardakos' players to get feedback on how the app works.

“The potential is quite unlimited. ... I'm surprised that something with this detail isn't already available,” he said. “And once it's available, I'll be surprised if most training facilities don't integrate it.”

Handron said there are about 1,000 such training facilities in the United States.

And the potential market is huge. There are an estimated 12 million amateur baseball and softball players in the United States and 35 million around the world, he said.

The four-employee company has relied on investors for capital, said Handron, who declined to provide specific dollar figures. It has enough money to get through the product release and hire more employees. The company wants to add four workers over the next couple months, he said.

Similar devices have been developed for golf, but Diamond Kinetics licensed the patents for the sensor-app specifically for baseball and softball, Handron said. The technology was made at Pitt and the University of Michigan, he said.

“If you're going to do this right, you focus on a specific sport,” he said.

Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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