For the March 2022 edition of the ‘BatTalk’ series, we had the pleasure of catching up with Dr. Jouni Ronkainen, technical advisor at BatFast, to speak about his fascinating work in the world of sports technology and why he is excited to be apart of the growing team.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’ve always had a passion for sport, engineering, and technology. This led me to Loughborough University where I was able to combine all my passions by completing what at the time was the first Sports Technology undergraduate course in the world, combined with playing for the University Football Club. A few years later I had completed my Ph.D. at the University’s Sports Technology Institute and had worked on cutting edge projects with globally recognized sports brands and governing bodies such as Adidas, Nike, Umbro, Mizuno, FIFA, and Lululemon.
From a solid foundation in the academic world of sport, I joined the Hawk-Eye Innovations Management Team. I was tasked with leveraging the existing know-how of the company into new domains. This took me around the world to places such as India, the US, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland and I was fortunate enough to meet and engage with some real sports stars along the way including Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters, and Shane Warne. With Hawk-Eye in 2012, I helped deliver a ground-breaking interactive sports experience, which in hindsight I feel was a watershed moment for immersive sports technology being used in the entertainment setting and in a very small way I hope has helped pave the way for the likes of BatFast to be taken as a serious, credible and scalable business in this space.
When was the first time you heard about BatFast and how did you join the BatFast team?
Over the years I’ve carried out a significant amount of work with one of BatFast’s key partners. Their Managing Director kept on mentioning that I should speak with BatFast as he was incredibly impressed with the people and products that they were working on.
Finally, through an introduction, I met Jignesh Patel at their Nottingham testing facility, and it was immediately obvious that both the people and product are superb. Hence, once I got the call from Jignesh to advise the team on a technical front it was a simple decision to join the team.
What is it about BatFast that makes you passionate about working with the team?
The contagious passion that everyone at BatFast shares for the work they are carrying out is the main reason I’m so thrilled to be working with the team.
What are your expectations/predictions about BatFast in the coming 2-5 years?
Given the BatFast simulators are seriously addictive and good fun to play, you can see that every major city could have one heading their way soon. The scalability and relatively small footprint of the systems are key to strong growth nationally and internationally. Cricket is played only in certain parts of the world, therefore given the team has already launched their multisport offering this will be vital to targeting venues in all parts of the globe.
What is it about BatFast that sets it apart from its probable competitors?
BatFast is a highly agile company with a clear purpose and vision.
The company has only just started its journey in becoming an instantly recognized sports technology brand, being a finalist at events such as the 2022 Sports Technology Awards I’m confident this is just the beginning…
As a member of the BatFast Tribe yourself, tell us about your first experience on the machine?
I’ve never been renowned with a bat in my hand, you must remember I grew up in Finland, although a country with great sporting heritage, Cricket is not something I grew up playing. Nevertheless, the key point is this anyone can play the BatFast simulator and I had a blast doing so even on my first go, and am super excited about taking my kids along so they can play the simulators for themselves!
What is your advice for young people who are interested in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning?
Go for it! In reality, it is probably already too late to find a sector that hasn’t been influenced by AI and Machine Learning. In my mind, there is no doubt that a career in this space will be exciting and the opportunities will be competitive, diverse, and hugely rewarding. I still feel that people shouldn’t neglect more traditional computer science programming and learning and use that as a stepping stone into the world of AI and Machine Learning. For really young people I couldn’t more highly recommend the site www.code.org, I wish when I was young I would have had access to such an engaging free site to learn to code. For people looking to go to University or study online courses around AI/ML and data science the UK, US and Singapore would be a good starting point.
What is your long-term dream for BatFast?
The UK government very recently published a report outlining the National plan for sport, health, and well-being. It describes how paramount it is to the health of the nation that everyone participates in sport and physical activity. Nigel Huddleston the MP for Mid-Worcestershire was quoted as stating there is a golden opportunity to use technology to enhance the physical activity experience. Furthermore, technology is identified as being able to help in two key ways, firstly by improving objective data collection and secondly by making facilities more accessible. In the report, the words ‘gamification’ and ‘exergaming’ are used repeatedly. When reading this report it is crystal clear to me that everything BatFast is working towards and believes in by providing engaging and exciting physical and digital experiences for everyone is in the interest of the country as a whole. Clearly, this report is UK centric but it is easy to understand why most countries on the planet would have similar drivers to ensure the health and fitness of it’s nation.
Therefore my dream for BatFast is that it can in a meaningful and measurable way impact the health and fitness of millions of people worldwide by making sport inclusive, fun, and rewarding.
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