Industry Watch

Well handled: The 94Fifty smart basketball talks to smart phones to help players improve their game 

Untapped potential

Why the Internet of Things is the next big thing for Logic PD

By Pratik Joshi
Saturday, July 26, 2014

For basketball players wanting to improve their shot, nothing beats good coaching, constant practice, and on-court experience. These days, though, connected gear and smart-phone apps can help, too.

Consider the 94Fifty, a “smart sensor basketball” made by Ohio-based InfoMotion Sports Technologies. Thanks to the ball’s embedded sensors and wireless technology, forces applied to it, such as spin and acceleration, are measured and shared with an app. Real-time feedback on the arc, backspin, and release speed of shots helps players refine their technique. 

For help in developing the ball and system, InfoMotion turned to Minneapolis-based Logic PD, an industrial design and product development firm that’s been helping clients get products from idea to reality for more than five decades. “We sell growth through innovation of new products,” says Scott Nelson, Logic PD’s CTO and executive vice president.

In recent years, his company has focused increasingly on the Internet of Things (IoT), helping clients harness the power of inter-connected devices and real-time data — as with the basketball, but in a wide variety of fields.

One reason clients might want to leverage the Internet of Things: It can help them transition their customer relationships from one-time sales to subscription services. To accomplish that, says Nelson, companies must leverage information with a view toward creating sustainable value.

About three years ago, Logic PD collaborated with Plymouth-based Geissler Corp. to develop a smart stethoscope that improves diagnosis and treatment of respiratory disease in cattle. The electronic scope records lung sounds to measure the severity of the condition and then sends that information to a database in the cloud for study. 

The information has allowed ranchers to better diagnose the disease in its early stages, helping to reduce the mortality rate of cows and therefore lower costs. Studies showed the stethoscope helped decrease the animal mortality rate by 38 percent in animal feed lots. 

In 2011, Eden Prairie–based Starkey Hearing Technologies sought Logic PD’s help to design and develop a relay device to link Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and other devices to hearing aids. Called SurfLink Mobile and launched in August 2013, the device serves as a remote control and streams audio wirelessly to the hearing aids.

Starkey has thousands of employees worldwide and no shortage of R&D talent, yet it partnered with Logic PD, says CTO Tim Trine, because “we didn’t want to be distracted from our existing development efforts within the company.”

Nelson notes that well-established companies, because they naturally focus on their core competencies, often overlook untapped segments of their market. With about 85 percent of the industrial Internet of Things not connected, he says, businesses should be thinking about what can they do to capture a slice of the “IoT economy.” 

Cisco CEO John Chambers believes the Internet of Things will create about $19 trillion in economic benefit and value over the next decade and have a bigger impact on society than the Internet itself. 

Nelson encourages clients to think differently to turn customers into subscribers, making sense of data to find what’s of value to users and how to keep them engaged. “IoT is an unrelenting user-based model,” he says. 

To grasp the model, suggests Logic PD’s marketing VP Jason Voiovich, imagine a tape dispenser. What if a dispenser could inform the right people to send more tape before the existing roll runs out? Better still, what if it could assess the temperature and relative humidity and recommend a certain kind of tape for the particular job at hand? Such a dispenser could win over customers looking for added value. “It’s a complete services model,” he says.

Logic PD markets itself as a partner to help businesses integrate ideas with the right technology, Voiovich says. “The challenge is how we articulate the message to companies who can use our services.”

Last year, Logic PD launched the Adrenaline Series, an IoT consultation package broken into three parts: a one-day workshop to assess customer needs, a pilot-and-test phase, and delivery of a proof of concept. 

In April, the company sponsored its first Logic PD Acme-thon competition. Participants addressed real market challenges through the mash-up of connected sensor data with publicly available datasets, in fields as diverse as drones, nutrition, and solar energy. “All of the solutions developed have the potential to be further refined and made market-ready in a short period of time,” notes Nelson. 

Many of the competition’s participants came from Logic PD, which employs more than a hundred engineers and has little trouble, says Nelson, in finding the right talent. Besides a strong brand with 50-plus years of history, he notes, the company offers mechanically minded individuals “new problems and a fertile environment to find solutions … This is an engineers’ environment with a design-thinking heart.”