The Batting Lab shows kids the value of data and analytics

SAS program boosts data literacy, prepares kids for a data-driven future and improves their hitting

For many, Spring means fresh-cut grass and the signature crack of a bat as the cricket season begins across counties up and down the UK.

Those who play cricket, and are familiar with the ins and outs of how the sport is coached, from young ages to elite level, will likely think of practice nets and the repetitive but addictive nature of practising batting technique by facing as many balls as possible.

Thanks to technology an action as seemingly simple as swinging a bat is evolving even at the grassroots level and could now help youngsters improve their batting skills.

SAS, the leader in analytics, has created The Batting Lab, an interactive experience that uses artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision and Internet of Things (IoT) analytics to help kids improve their batting swings … and their confidence in using data and analytics, a foundational element of data literacy.

The initial project has been completed at SAS headquarters in North Carolina, where this new educational programme combines baseball and softball, rather than cricket, with the very latest technologies. Its principles around batting remain the same.

The Batting Lab applies data science to help kids better use stats and bats. And it makes data and analytics more accessible, relevant and fun. Boosting data literacy to help young people thrive in a world increasingly driven by data and analytics - while in the immediacy helping them hit more runs or a home one.

“Statistical competency is a requirement in so many fields now. I know that I would have no career in a baseball front office without an understanding of data and analytics,” said Sig Mejdal, Assistant General Manager for the Baltimore Orioles, sabermetrics expert and former NASA engineer. “I can see that through The Batting Lab project, SAS seeks to inspire a new generation of data-savvy citizens who will work to solve many of our most pressing challenges with data and analytics. The project introduces skills that kids will need when they go pro, in business, engineering, medicine, government and so many other fields.”

Tech-laden batting cage and at-home playbook

The Batting Lab includes a tech-laden batting cage packed with sensors and cameras to capture a batter’s stance, swing and ball-flight details. Through AI, computer vision and IoT analytics, stance and swing data are analysed in real time, and feedback and suggestions for improvement are shared via in-cage displays on its floor and walls.

The sensors and cameras of The Batting Lab collect more than 50,000 data points per swing. In a single session of 50 swings, that’s more than 2.5 million data points analysed.

Batters see how to optimise their weight distribution, hand position, core movements and other factors. The Batting Lab analysed thousands of swings from elite players – including from North Carolina State University’s baseball and softball teams – to build a model of the optimal swing. It uses this to help guide youth hitters to a better swing.

"I thought it was just going to be a regular old cage with tons of cameras,” said Genkai Sharmin, age 12, one of the initial group of kids to experience The Batting Lab. “I was very surprised. I was shocked. It kind of looked like a spaceship.

“I can see what I did wrong. A coach would just tell me, and I wouldn't really understand. But The Batting Lab shows me where I need to improve."

While not everyone can experience The Batting Lab’s batting cage, everyone can benefit from the project. The Batting Lab offers an at-home Data Playbook, an online version of the programme, where kids and their parents can use worksheets to track progress and receive guidance. As the kids improve their batting skills, they also gain confidence in using data and analytics to achieve their goals. The Data Playbook will be available on June 6.

The AI, computer vision and other advanced technologies in The Batting Lab cage and behind its Data Playbook guide are the same as those used by SAS customers everywhere.

“The Batting Lab makes data and analytics fun. Right off the bat, kids use data to improve their swings and stances,” said Lucy Kosturko, Education Programmes Manager at SAS. “Our goal is that the kids in the batting cage and those working with the Data Playbook at home will be more comfortable applying data to solve problems, improve a skill and understand their world.”

While The Batting Lab may improve kids’ hitting, its most important outcome is to prepare them for the future by giving them the confidence to work with the data and analytics that run the world around us. This introduction to data and analytics and to the concept of data literacy is The Batting Lab’s true impact.

SAS supports data literacy

SAS has long supported data literacy to help people navigate and thrive in a world awash in data. Data literacy is the ability to consume, interpret and understand data, and is an essential skill for success in today’s world and workplaces. Through programmes like The Batting Lab, as well as free courses available to job seekers through the SAS STEP Programme and free tools for educators, SAS is making data literacy accessible for all.

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