LABS Declassified Innovation Stories From Wilson LABS: Wilson X Connected Basketball
What do you get when you add a revolutionary idea + the brightest minds in sports equipment engineering + player insights + sophisticated technology + an unwavering love of the game? You get X.
Go behind the closed doors of Wilson LABS and see what went into one of our most revolutionary breakthroughs.
The Ball That Changed It All
He Shoots, Wilson Scores
On a dark, cold night in a top-secret lab in Helsinki, Wilson engineers and scientists from SportIQ walk onto a basketball court. With them, they carry a basketball that looks like any other, except for one piece of duct tape. One of the scientists stares intently at his phone screen while another bounces the ball into the air. After dribbling a couple times, he launches a jump shot. The ball sails toward the rim (duct tape and all) and swishes through the net. The scientist with the phone continues to stare at his screen for a moment, then thrusts his fist into the air, beaming.
The group goes wild. Wilson X worked.
That night in Helsinki was a major milestone in the rigorous testing that would eventually yield the world’s first attachment-free connected basketball. Designed and created by Wilson LABS, the Research and Development arm of Wilson Sporting Goods, the Wilson X Connected Basketball brought a new and revolutionary level of technology to the driveway for all lovers of the game.
But what if there was a ball that brought the thrill of the big game to the driveway?
Behind The WX Basketball
The ball itself was born in a top-secret lab, but the idea for it came from a much less mysterious place—specifically, a driveway in the Chicago suburbs.
“3…2…1… he shoots, he scores!”
For Bob Thurman, Head of Wilson LABS, rebounding for his son in the driveway is as much an idea generator as it is a way to blow off steam. On what would turn out to be an important day in Wilson Sporting Goods history, it occurred to Bob that every basketball player does this same clutch moment countdown thousands of times in their head while shooting around. But what if there was a ball that brought the thrill of the big game to the driveway? A ball that recreated realistic pressure conditions found in real-life game play?
Bob’s Driveway Eureka Moment
The realization that sensor-enabled products bring big game moments to the driveway and backyard was followed quickly by another major discovery: the need for a Game Day-worthy connected basketball. One that would live up to the same performance standards as the Wilson balls that are used in NCAA Championships and Super Bowls. So the search began…
Some early concepts for Wilson X called for elaborate technology, like a laser-projected virtual scoreboard, net attachments, and wearable components. Engineers also searched for a charging solution that wouldn’t alter the ball’s performance. Each of the early iterations fell a bit flat—sometimes literally.
But they knew they were on the right track.
After a few attempts, it became apparent that the solution needed to be simpler. First and foremost, the engineers decided the tech component should fit inside the ball itself. As smartphones became more prevalent, Wilson engineers saw MCUs, accelerometers, and gyros becoming smaller, more powerful, and less power hungry. There was also a huge increase in consumers using Bluetooth radios and devices. Wilson engineers knew it was only a matter of time before their ideas could come to life.
To avoid needing a charging solution, all of the tech inside the ball had to run on as little juice as possible. The engineers went back to the drawing board to take another shot. This one, they would sink.
Finished Prototype & Testing
How The Ball Got Its Brain
Wilson LABS partnered with a team of Finnish scientists at SportIQ who had the perfect combination of hardware, firmware, software, and algorithm resources to bring the Wilson X Connected Basketball to life. Together with SportIQ, Wilson LABS researchers analyzed the movement of thousands of jump shots, free throws, and lay-ups, and mapped all the data. This led to the creation of distinct shot signatures, which the Wilson X sensor uses to differentiate between makes and misses.
The hardware inside the Wilson X ball is complemented by an app that tracks player shooting in four different game modes: Free Range, Free Throw, Buzzer Beater, and Game Time.
This ultimate shoot-around game mode tracks shots from the corner, beyond the arc, and more.
This game mode tracks your makes, misses, and lifetime attempts so you can stay hot from the line.
Sink shots under pressure as the clock counts down in Buzzer Beater mode.
You’re the start player leading the team in this real game simulation. Will you get the W?
Every aspect of the app, from design to coding, was developed in-house by the Wilson LABS team. Daniel Hare, an aerodynamics research engineer, volunteered to master the audio tracks. The Company’s lead designer handled all artwork, and Ben De La Cruz, a former pro basketball player who works at Wilson as a player insights specialist, zigzagged across the U.S. in search of qualitative research.
On the west coast, Ben shot hoops with NBA players and coaches using a Wilson X Connected Basketball. From there, he attended countless kid’s camps and set up a shooting booth at NCAA March Madness–asking for feedback from rec players and basketball enthusiasts all along the way.
Meet the LABS Team
Hover OverTap Select Individuals To Understand Their Role In Bringing The Wilson X Connected Basketball To Life
Led the around-the-clock 11 week sprint to get Wilson X game-ready
Global Innovation Director
Oversaw the mission to make the world’s first smart basketball
Vice President, Digital
Strategized how to introduce Wilson X to the digital space
Player Insight Specialists
Conducted qualitative research across the country and gathered feedback for the Engineers
As the broader Wilson team play-tested the Wilson X Connected Basketball with hundreds of youth, high school, college and pro basketball players, coaches, and trainers, Bob did his own qualitative feedback, spending many nights on his driveway basketball court, rebounding for his son. With a projector connected to Bob’s iPhone, the Wilson X app’s visual display took up the entire side of the garage: shooting percentages, a countdown clock, and a heat map for all the neighbors to see. 3…2…1… He shoots—HE SCORES! The big game experience was happening right there on his driveway.
The Wilson X Connected Basketball is the newest in a line of game-changing innovations born in Wilson LABS. From NFL Super Bowls to NCAA Championships, Wilson has been a big part of creating big game moments. Today, our product engineers are busy developing the next generation of connected game ball technology. If our 100 year history is any indication, the 2.0 version will continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of sport and transforming the way the world’s best athletes train and compete.