Last week we had the honor to interviewPhilippe Kahn, the CEO of Fullpower Technologies, a world’s leading sleep technology company. Philippe is also well known for creating the first camera phone and has been a pioneer in the area of wearable technology intellectual property.
📝Show Notes: We discussed Philippe’s background, how he started Fullpower Technologies, then we talked about his product, his plans for the next 2 years, and the trends he sees in the smart tech sleeping world.
Video: Philippe Kahn
Please note that this is the beginning of a video interview series with top sports and tech executives to discuss the latest and greatest technologies used in the world of pro sports.
This week we had the honor to interview Walid Fattah, the CEO of Kourts, a leading tech startup in the world of tennis.
Picture: Kourts’ mobile app and desktop app
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we talked about how Kourts got started, how Kourts’ technology helps tennis clubs today, what kind of benefits they get from it, Kourts’ future product roadmap, and what he believes will be the future of AI based solutions for tennis clubs.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Walid:
On how Kourts got started:“ I was fortunate enough to live in many different cities and different continents, and I always faced the same frustration of trying to find a tennis court, trying to find a program, trying to find a coach, a player, someone to play with. For me, it was always very, very frustrating (..) IIn 2015, I was living in Dubai. I spent quite a bit of time there working with Credit Suisse. While I was there, a very dear friend of mine who had built the largest real estate portal of the region called propertyfinder.ae, and I shared with him the frustration of the tennis world, and he says, “Walid, in today’s world, with the technology that we have, we can fix all those problems.” I looked at it a little bit deeper. I came to the US thinking that the US would be the biggest market. It was a tech project as well so I thought it was the right place to start this. I did about six or seven months of research to try and understand the demographics of tennis in the US and try to understand how people were addressing all the different issues in tennis (..) this really started on the back of frustration of myself and so many other people that I had heard on how complicated it was to try and find, as I said, anything linked to tennis”.
On how Kourts is different from other SaaS solutions for tennis: “We also obviously looked at the space and we looked at competitors and no one had built a marketplace like the one we built and still no one has, but there was a lot of those SaaS products out there and we looked at how they were built. It was all very out-dated. It was all very difficult to put settings for a club. For us, that’s when we realized, “Okay. If we want to get more players to play, we need to have the buy-in of clubs,” but then it’s the chicken and the egg because obviously now that we’ve built a platform”.
On how Kourts is helping tennis clubs today:“We have a marketplace with more than 80,000 tennis players, we’re directing players towards facilities that are on our platform and I’ll give you an example. We’re based in Venice Beach, California, which is one of our biggest markets mostly because we are headquartered here, we are currently in 24 different states in America. We’re only in the US for the time being. One club in particular, which was one of the first four clubs that was on the platform, when they started with the Kourts platform, they had 42% on average court occupancy. In today’s situation, and this is 18 months in, they have more than 72% court occupancy”.
On how Kourts is helping clubs attract new members: “Interesting enough, and I’ll take the same club as an example because we use it a lot, but that club that currently has about 470 players, 164 players are players that have come through the Kourts app. We know because obviously it goes into the database, and the database obviously shows that this booking came through the Kourts app, and those were not members. A lot of the clubs out there allow non-members to come to a private club but only for clinics, only for programs and classes”.
On why they decided to build Kourts on mobile first: “At 9:47 p.m., your front desk of your club is closed. Now, the fact that you have the ability of booking at any time, it’s made things so much easier. There are some SaaS products out there, which are web-based, but I always tell tennis players and say, “Oh, why don’t you have something that’s web-based?” I’m like, “Do you have your laptop with you right now?” He’s like, “No, it’s at home,” but that’s my point. Today, everyone is mobile. If you look at when Facebook did their IPO, most of all the traffic on Facebook was through computers, desktop. Today, 80% of all the traffic on Facebook is mobile. I.e. phones and tablets. That’s where the market is today and that’s what pushed us towards that direction”.
On the new features to be added to Kourts:“Now, let’s say you, Julien, you come to Los Angeles and you’re going to spend three days here and you’re looking for an instructor. Well now, through the Kourts app, what you’ll be able to do is whoever is on the Kourts platform as an instructor, you’ll be able to say, “I’m looking for an instructor. I am in Santa Monica,” and now what the app will do is will show you all the available instructors in Santa Monica at the specific time that you’re looking for (..) The other thing that we’re adding as well, which I think is almost as important as that is player matching. There’s a lot of player matching apps out there, which work great, but the issue they have is they have very little content. (..) As I said, almost 100 thousand players. It’s very likely now that depending where you go, if you use the Kourts app, and if we have player matching, you’d be able to find a player”.
On how those new features could impact instructors: “It’s going to create more revenue for instructors, it gives them more exposure, and now once we really start marketing the app, it allow players to not have to worry about getting an instructor, getting a court wherever they travel. That’s one thing that we’re adding that’s extremely important”.
How Kourts could potentially mine the data it is collecting to unlock new revenue opportunities and work with brands: “Well, we could. We’re not so much in that business, but what the data helps us with obviously is we can now tell you the average occupancy rate of tennis clubs per ZIP code, per state, per city, per country soon, but what we can soon do as well, thanks to our point of sale, we can tell you which brand is the most sold at a tennis club because a point of sale has an inventory so you would know if they sell Coca-Cola, if they sell rackets, if the sell stringing, whatever they process through our point of sale.
How the kind of targeted ads that could be placed inside Kourts app down the road: “Now, in our case, because we know the habits of our players, it is so easy for us to go and say, “Yup. Well, let’s put a banner on all the men adults that play on clay only.” Now, for you, that ad is obviously interesting because it’s relevant just for the sheer fact that you’re an adult male and you play on clay, so when there’s a new pair of shoes that come out, you want to hear about it, but I want to pollute you when that brand comes out with a new pair of tennis shoes for women for hard court because you have no interest in that (..) Again, obviously for us what’s important, we don’t want to pollute our app here. We have many ways of getting revenues. Of course, it’s something that we think of, but we’ll see further down the road”.
How their future international plans: “We’ve been approached by many federations of many countries and it’s like feeling someone’s giving you a tap on the shoulder when someone like those big federations come to you and they ask about your technology, but I think you need to walk before you run and one of the important points here is we have a very big focus on our customer care (..) That’s why, until today, it’s my role obviously I’ve decided that we need to hold back for as long as we can and continue building our product so that once we’re pretty big in the current market in which we are, it’s so much easier to go abroad”.
On the size of the US tennis market, which is the largest market for tennis today: “Now, the estimation is that in America, where there’s approximately 18 million tennis players across America. Last year in 2017, about 9.6 million players played on average 39 times last year. That gives you a bit of size of the market in America.What we’ve realized is that the US market represents approximately one fifth of the sales of racket manufacturers. If you just do simple math, that means there’s approximately 100 million tennis players across the world”.
How AI has become so powerful that it can even predict the players’s next plays: “The other thing that it brings as well is if you were to look at every single match that Roger Federer played against Rafael Nadal just to take them as an example, you could almost predict what each player is about to do on the next shot. That’s all thanks to AI.I think that AI can help you to a certain extent. It won’t allow you to beat Rafael or Roger, I have to warn you, but it definitely will help you understand what’s about to happen”.
On their future plans: “Obviously, what we’re going to do in the next two years is we’re raising more money right now where we should’ve been pretty successful (..) and we’re going to add more features (..) As I explained, I think one of the important features that will grow in the next couple of years will be player matching.(..)We’re going to go into other countries. A lot of people are asking us about other sports. What we’re going to do is we’re going to branch out into other racket sports, which is the exact same logic as tennis. (..) We’ll be promoting the app within the tennis player community and that’s something that we’re looking forward to”.
This week we had the honor to interview Marc Rowley, CEO of Live CGI, which recently built the NBA 2K League’s virtual studio. Marc also worked for ESPN for 18+ years where he built cutting edge technologies (AR, VR..).
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his background, how he got the idea of Live CGI, and his experience at ESPN. We also talked about the virtual studio he built for the NBA 2K league, and how his technology can help teams and leagues offset the losses in ticket sales from COVID-19 crisis.
Click on the video below to watch the full Upside TV interview (Powered by Live CGI) with Marc Rowley (Live CGI) and Julien Blin (The Upside host):
Doping by professional athletes has been acknowledged as a problem since at least the 1960s. Since then, a number of global initiatives have been implemented in order to prevent doping in sports, starting with the creation in 1972 of the steroid and drug testing policy by the International Olympic Committee. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) was also created in 1999. Then in 2004 the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 was passed in the US, expanding the list of prohibited substances.
That being said, over the past few years the latest advancements in the world of AI are bringing new opportunities in order to better address doping issues in the world of elite sports. The recent partnerships between WADA and the Montreal based startup Dataperformers and Element AI, perfectly illustrate this new trend. We will get into that in greater details in the upcoming sections.
What are the most common types of performance enhancing drugs?
As shown in the table below, there are several types of performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids, stimulants, human growth hormone, Erythropoietin (EPO), Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG or the Clear), and diuretics, and gene therapy.
Anabolic steroids are natural and synthetic substances which help build muscle mass, enabling athletes to train harder and recover quickly from strenuous workouts.
Tetrahydrogestrinone, also known as THG or the Clear, is a steroid purportedly used by such high profile athletes as track star Marion Jones and baseball player Barry Bonds.
EPO, also known as blood doping, is a peptide hormone that is produced naturally by the human body. EPO is released from the kidneys and acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. An increase in red blood cells improves the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry to the body’s muscles. It may also increase the body’s capacity to buffer lactic acid.
Stimulants, including amphetamines, impact the central nervous system, increasing alertness and decreasing appetite.
Human growth hormone (HGH) is taken for improved endurance and strength.
Androstenedione is a supplement that was sold over-the-counter until the FDA took action in 2004. It is banned by the NFL, Olympics, NCAA and MLB. The supplement is an anabolic steroid precursor, meaning that the body converts it into testosterone.
Gene therapy, also known as gene doping, is another type of doping in sports. However, instead of injecting DNA into a person’s body for the purpose of restoring some function related to a damaged or missing gene, as in gene therapy, gene doping involves inserting DNA for the purpose of enhancing athletic performance.
913+ athletes sanctioned under steroid and drug testing policy since 1972
Since the implementation of the steroid and drug testing policy by the International Olympic Committee in 1972 there have been 913 documented athletes who were sanctioned under this policy for more than 1170 offenses.
More than half of sanctions (59%) were related to steroids and stimulants.
Steroids is the top substance used with 45% of offenses involving steroids while one in ten offenses involved the use of peptide hormones.
Other drugs have lower rates as may be specific only to a niche sport which is less popular or represented less in competitions such as blood transfusions related to diving.
Sprinting gathered the most sanctions
Sprinting gathered the most sanctions as it constantly requires athletes to push their limits further. Overall, more than half of events include running events or race walking.
Most biological passport anomalies were registered for distance running, marathon and race walk with 86% of cases confined to these events while more than half of sprinting offenses (51%) were related to use steroids and another 19% to the use of stimulants.
2 years ban is the most common sanction
With 522 out of total sanctions on all events documented receiving it, the sanction most often used in cases of doping is 2 years, applied in 48% of sanctions given (493 of athletes, 54% of them). Public warnings and / or loss of titles was applied in 72 (7%) of sanctioning cases (68 athletes, 7%) while 51(5%) sanctions were life ban (47 athletes, 5%) especially for repeated misdemeanours.
USA and Russia registered the highest number of offenses
As expected, due to their high number of competing athletes and substance availability, USA and Russia registered the highest number of offenses. Both countries were sanctioned mainly for the use of steroids. The only notable difference is that USA was making more use of stimulants while in Russia there were more biological passport abnormalities.
Along steroids, France and Morocco got also sanctioned more for the use of Hormones.
Most biological passport anomalies were registered in Russia, felony surpassed only by the usage of steroids in this country. Russia also got the most sanctions in the Race walk events with 19% out of the total offenses for Russia and 47% for this event category.
Canada, UK, Nigeria and the US got sanctioned mainly on sprinting as compared to other events.
Morocco got sanctioned mostly for Long distance and Middle distance. Russia, and Morocco got sanctioned for Middle distance more than other countries. Belarus got sanctioned mostly on Shot put and Hammer throw.
Survey: 57% of world-class amateur athletes admitted using performance enhancing drugs.
A controversial study suggesting that doping in sport is far more prevalent than was found to be by conventional testing has finally been published after years of wrangling.
The research, based on anonymous surveys carried out at two elite athletics competitions in 2011, found that up to 57% of competitors admitted doping in the previous 12 months, a figure far surpassing the 1-2% identified by blood and urine tests carried out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and higher even than the 14% prevalence estimated from the athlete biological passport.
Major initiatives: WADA launching 3 AI projects with Dataperformer, Element AI and Centre for Genomics and Politics at McGill University in Montreal.
Back in May 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) announced a special request for applications for targeted research projects on the application and impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in the area of anti-doping.
By doing so, the WADA hope to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help catch drugs cheats within two years.
WADA believe that using AI technology computer systems that conduct tasks normally requiring human intelligence could help target tests far more effectively and ultimately catch more cheats.
Over 300,000 samples a year are analysed worldwide, but there remain huge concerns about the efficacy of testing.
As a result of this initiative, WADA and the Fonds de recherche du Québec (Québec research fund) announced in October 2019 that it has handed over funding to three separate projects that will explore the possible uses of AI in the fight against doping.
Dr Olivier Rabin, the senior director for sciences and international partnerships at WADA, said: “AI is an exciting area to be explored and WADA believes there is enormous untapped potential for its use within anti-doping, particularly when it comes to the analysis of big data. (…) “In time we think it could have a hugely positive impact.”
Dr Rabin added: “These three complementary projects will help shed some light on the extend of AI’s potential in the anti-doping context and we are pleased to be able to support what we hope will be important pieces of research.”
The first of these projects is with Dataperformers, a company founded in Montreal, Canada in 2013, in collaboration with a WADA-accredited lab in Paris.
This research will explore the possibility of using AI todetect the use of prohibited substances and methods.
If successful, artificial intelligence could be used to analyze data collected through WADA’s athlete biological passport programme, which currently uses and ‘adaptive model’ algorithm to determine whether an unusual test result is the result of a normal physiological condition, or related to performance enhancing drugs.
“Athletes are smart in how they dope, you need to be smart in how you apply the anti-doping tests,” Rabin said. “Artificial intelligence will help us in the recommendation to test this particular athlete at this particular time to attempt to reveal doping.” Should the research projects prove as successful as hoped, Rabin says AI could be used within 18-24 months. “It’s going to help us focus on the suspicious data and the suspicious athletes’ profiles,” he added.
It is well established that targeted testing is far more effective than random tests. But WADA still believe that not enough tests are genuinely targeted. Using AI could help them spot new patterns typical of dopers, assisting their investigations.
“We want to see the correlations that are unknown to us that may come out of this work,” Rabin said. “There is a correlation that we could find between some of the aspects of the suspicious profile and between the population of some of the athletes that we could identify as being doped, and we could not find in the population that you identify as being clean.
Dataperformers CEO and Co-founder Mehdi Merai further explains how AI can help find correlation between a large number of parameters to help detect suspicious profiles.
“I want to find the relationship or the impact between height, weight and the result of a sports performance. It is easily visible to a human. If I add a third parameter, we are still in the possible, but a fourth, a fifth, a sixth … a hundredth, that’s where we reached the limit. Our brain has difficulty understanding the relationship between a set of parameters and a scientific result’, explains Mr Merai.
Picture: Dataperformers team
Dataperformers CEO also believes that its AI solution could also be used to assess the risk of injuries of players over time.
“AI is an excellent tool to detect weak signals from a streamlined data coming from biometric sensors, historical performance, and visual data (movements analysis) (..) AI is able to detect anomalous data points that could be a signal regarding a high probability of injury risk. It acts like an biomedical advisor for the team managers that are able to continuously monitor all the players, from all the perspectives continuously. so, it lights the cognitive load of team managers that will use this time and energy for better cases such as strategy and more”, said Dataperformers CEO during an interview with The Upside.
The second project WADA is funding will be carried out by Element AI, also based in Montreal, which will explore the risk of doping in athletes through the technology and then develop a sampling and testing method based on algorithms.
Picture: Element AI team
Finally, the Centre for Genomics and Politics at McGill University in Montreal will look into how using AI to combat doping would be viewed by different stakeholders, in the hopes of guiding conversations between WADA, other anti-doping organisations, athletes and the public.
Chief scientist of Québec, Dr Rémi Quirion, said: “It is hoped through these three projects that we will raise the understanding of the impacts that AI could have on the fight against doping, both technologically and socially.”
Bottom line: We believe that we are at a point where advancements in AI can have a major impact on anti-doping efforts in the coming years. Companies like Dataperformers, and Element AI, are well positioned to become pioneers in this emerging space. Since all the world’s major sports federations (FIFA, ITF, FIBA, UCI, World Rugby…) are collaborating with WADA, we believe that over time AI could have a profound impact in the fight against doping in elite sports.