Technology is changing America's pastime, and the Houston Astros have the lead off. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Over the past decade or so, sports franchises have seen a boom in technology integration. The fact of the matter is that both the teams and the players need to tap into tech to have a competitive advantage on the field — and especially when it comes to the business side of things.

"Technologically advanced companies want to do business with technologically advanced companies," says Matt Brand, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and special events at the Houston Astros. "Old cats like me need to realize you have to stay current or else you're just going to get passed up."

Brand was the subject of a live recording of HXTV — the video arm of Houston Exponential — at The Cannon. He addressed several trends in sports technology, and shared how the Astros are approaching each new hot technology.

The Astros are pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, Brand says, and the trick is keeping a pulse on potential game-changing technology far in advance of implementation.

"The things that we're developing now in 2019 and 2020 are the thing that are going to help us in 2024 and 2025," Brand says.

The approach to technology in sports is changing as younger players enter the scene.

"This generation of players want all the technology they can get," Brand says. "They want what's going on up to the day."

From esports to sports betting sites, here's what the hometeam has on its radar, according to brand.

The evolution of pitching technology

One aspect of the game that's been greatly affected by technology is pitching. Brand says that pitching coach, Brent Strom, is better able to do his job nowadays that there's better quality video and monitoring technologies. Brand cited the transformations of former pitcher Charlie Morton and current pitcher Ryan Pressly. Both saw impressive transformations in their pitching ability thanks to Strom and his technology.

"Brent has the ability to take technology and blend it with the craft," Brand says.

The players as industrial machines

One way the franchise thinks about its players is as machines — in the least objectifying way, surely. But Brand compares baseball players to major, expensive oil and gas machines, and in heavy industry, it's very common for a company to drop $30 million or more on a machine. Of course the company would schedule preventative maintenance and service appointments to protect their investments.

"We've got players now who are high performance machines," Brand says, citing players like Justin Verlander. "We want to make sure we have the best technology and the best care around them."

From doctors and nutritionists to the latest and greatest technologies, implementing the best practices is a good way to protect your assets.

Wearables and sleep technology

Another trend within sports is tracking sleep using technology. Wearable devices to track sleep and health are widely used, says Brand, but the Astros weren't comfortable with the constant monitoring.

"They feel like it's an invasion of privacy," Brand says. They feel like the data would be used against them when it came time to negotiate their contracts.

But prioritizing sleep is crucial in a sport where players travel across the country playing 162 games a season. Brand says investing in the players' sleep equipment is something they make sure to do.

Esports

Brand says, somewhat controversial, that esports is pretty low on the franchise's priority list, and there's one reason for that: Money.

"A lot of these sports teams aren't profitable right now," Brand says, noting that he knows that will probably change over the years.

While the teams themselves might not be making money, the number of users of video games makes for a different avenue to revenue.

"The platforms are what we see as profitable," Brand says, explaining how he's seen brands like Nike advertise in gaming apps.

"There's definitely a pathway to profitability, but esports means different things to different people," he says.

Sports marketing and betting

Looking toward the future, Brand says he sees movement coming in marketing and betting within sports.

With mobile devices in the hands of most sports event goers, brands have access to authentic, engaging content.

"Everyone with a phone is a producer of content, and a lot of brands want that content," he says.

Sports betting technologies have seen profitable success in other United States markets that allow it.

"Betting is the next biggest thing in sports," Brand says. "All the major leagues are saddled up with big money there. In Texas, it's illegal still, but it's coming."

Ever thought about using tech for a better night's sleep? The Sleep Show might be for you. Courtesy of the Sleep Show

These 10 companies using tech for a better night's sleep are competing in Houston this weekend

You snooze you don't lose

Tech has affected every aspect of our lives, from the way we get our groceries or order food to how we meet a mate. So, it only makes sense that there is developing technology focused on improving the way we sleep.

This weekend, the Sleep Show is taking over George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, and 28 sleep tech products are competing on Saturday, March 9, for the National Sleep Foundation's SleepTech Award. Here are 10 of the award's semi-finalists that aren't snoozing on innovation.

TimeShifter 

Courtesy of the Sleep Show

Jetlag is a thing of the past if you use TimeShifter before, during, and after your trip. You program your plans in the app, and it offers you advice and recommendations for overcoming jetlag.

SleepScore

Photo via sleepscore.com

Another free app, SleepScore delivers advice and analytics for your regular night's sleep. the program is backed by science and doesn't require the user to wear anything or put anything in their bed. A bedside monitor us also used to detect light or sound in the bedroom for better analytics.

Embr

Courtesy of the Sleep Show

Everybody has their own optimized sleeping temperature, and it's difficult to control it from a larger scale heating and cooling system. The Embr Wave, developed by MIT scientists, is a personal thermostat you wear on your wrist. There's no bright screen either, and users simply press and hold the device if they are too hot or too cold.

Biostrap

Photo via biostrap.com

Another wearable, Biostrap is a sleep and fitness tracker that can provide precise vitals — such as heartbeat — using a clinical-quality PPG sensor, which runs on light-based technology. The data can be used for sleep analysis, heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen saturation, and respiratory rate.

Kryo Inc.'s ChiliPad

Courtesy of the Sleep Show

The ChiliPad is for sleepers who need to chill out. The blanket, which is the size of half of a queen bed — perfect for couples with different temperature needs — can regulate temperatures between 55 and 110 degrees.

Somnox

Courtesy of the Sleep Show

​Touted as the world's first sleep robot, the Somnox Sleep Robot is your high-tech cuddle buddy and little spoon. It syncs your breathing to that of the machine's and puts you straight into a relaxed state with soothing sounds. You can program your robot for a night's sleep, a quick nap, or just a relaxation period. You also tell the robot how long you want the sleep synchronization for, before it automatically shuts off.

BreatheSimple

Photo via breathesimple.com

Another breathing technology is BreatheSimple, a free app that helps train you to optimize your breathing. The app is currently available on iOS, and will soon be an option for Android users.

Nanit

Photo via nanit.com

Babies need sleep tech too, and Nanit as an over-the-crib monitor made to record, track, and offer guidance for parents on their baby's sleeping. The device was actually named by TIME Magazine as one of the "Best Inventions of 2018".

URGONight

Photo via urgonight.com

You can train yourself to be a better sleeper with URGONight. The headpiece syncs with a mobile app and, in about three months, you'll be a professional sleeper.

SonicTonic

Photo via sonictonic.io

Sounds are so important to humans' ability to relax. SonicTonic aims to help users truly relax their minds for a good night's rest and treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.


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Houston professor earns competitive NSF award, nearly $700,000 grant

science supported

An assistant professor at Rice University has won one of the highly competitive National Science Foundation's CAREER Awards.

The award grants $670,406 over five years to Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched, according to a statement from Rice. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

“My goal is to create a new paradigm for designing elastomers,” Marciel said in a statement. “The research has four aims: to determine the role of comb polymer topology in forming elastomers, understanding the effects of that topology on elastomer mechanics, characterizing its effects on elastomer structure and increasing the intellectual diversity in soft matter research.”

Marciel, who joined the faculty at Rice in 2019, is one of about 500 researchers to receive the NSF's CAREER Award each year. The award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF.

In addition to supporting Marciel's research, the funds will also go toward creating opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists. It will establish a new annual symposium called the Texas Soft Matter Meeting, where community college teachers can participate in a soft matter laboratory module and students in the Research Experiences for Undergrads program at Rice will present their summer research.

Recently, Rice also launched the new Rice Synthetic Biology Institute, which aims to strengthen the synthetic biology community across disciplines at the university. It is part of an $82 million investment the university put toward synthetic biology, neuroengineering and physical biology in 2018.

A fellow team or Rice researcher is also working on wearable haptic accessories. A member of the team was recently named to the 2024 cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows. Click here to learn more.

Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.