Table tennis is one of those sports that almost everyone has tried at least once. It is often associated with childhood, youth or garden parties. But of course table tennis is also played professionally and, as in every kind of sport, attempts are made to increase success through technical analyses of the training.
But how could that work in table tennis?
Simon Stützer, a PhD student from 2012-2017 under Prof. Alexander Szameit, asked this himself during the pandemic. "All the sports facilities were closed and so I often went jogging and tracked my performance. In this process, I asked myself why I couldn't do the same for table tennis," says Simon Stützer, who has been actively playing for 20 years at the only Bundesliga club from the eastern German states, "Post Mühlhausen". It quickly became clear that the interesting data in this sport are different: "In jogging and fitness, GPS data, pulse and calorie consumption are more interesting. In table tennis, I am interested in my stroke behaviour, acceleration, strokes per minute, whether I prefer to play forehand or backhand...". So it was obvious to the passionate sportsman that the technical interface had to be in the racket. Pretty quickly, a prototype for a measuring device in the racket grip was built, which delivers relevant data to an app that can be read out on mobile phone in real time.
A lot has happened since these initial thoughts: he was not only able to convince his former fellow student Dr Toni Eichelkaut, who also did his doctorate at the IAP under Prof. Szameit, to contribute the experience he had gained at ZEISS and founded together JANOVA GmbH. They jointly launched a crowdfunding campaign, produced a professional image film. The core - the sensor and the app - were of course also further developed; currently, around 800 measurement data per second can be recorded, which are evaluated using AI. In order to collect reference data for this, they worked together with the professionals from the "Post Mühlhausen" association. "The technology can show its potential not only in table tennis, but ultimately in any racquet sport, such as golf or baseball. With this basis, we can inspire many more future users," says the founder, outlining the possibilities.
On the economic side, the idea of the smart racket, as JANOVA calls the digital racket, also seems solid, since Simon Stützer studied business administration at the University of Jena in addition to his time as a scientist and organizes two leagues - the Fitness-Bundesliga and Boulder-Bundesliga. He also managed to recruit other companions for JANOVA from the business world, although venture capital is still lacking. In 2021, the concept convinced the jury of the Thuringian Founders' Prize and awarded the founders second prize in the "Founders" category. And MDR has already reported on the innovation.
With the smart racket, JANOVA might actually have succeeded in raising table tennis to the next level - at least that's what their slogan promises.
We look forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with our former colleagues Dr Toni Eichelkraut and Simon Stützer at the IAP & Fraunhofer IOF Alumni Day on 07.07.2022!