UA student technology advances outside of research

UA student technology advances outside of research

Photo courtesy of Jacob Zarobsky  

Four students on campus have come together to create an accessible combination of technology and sports to improve players' softball and baseball game, originally thanks to the UA Emerging Scholars program.

“I kind of took to computers from an early age and I wasn't satisfied with just playing with Microsoft Paint,” Jacob Zarobsky, a graduate student studying computer science, said. “I wanted to make them do something for me.”

Zarobsky is one of the four student entrepreneurs who worked on an app-development company called Pitch Analyzer Software or PA Software. The team consists of Matthew Bowen who did research under Jeff Gray, a computer science professor at the University, Matthew’s brother Will Bowen, an aerospace engineer, and a recent graduate named Andrew White are also a part of the team.

The company has developed two apps, Pitch Analyzer and Hit Analyzer. Pitch Analyzer analyzes pitchers' throws from an uploaded video and can visually track pitch velocity, flight path and location relative to a virtual strike zone. Hit Analyzer analyzes a batter's swing, tracking things like exit velocity, launch angle, distance and hang time, and displays the output on the screen. Both are available in the Apple App Store. 

Gray and Matthew Bowen first worked together on a project for the Emerging Scholars Program during Bowen’s freshman year, Gray said. The program lets freshmen work with faculty on research projects early in their career. 

“Computer science students more than any major on campus have this ability to become entrepreneurs from results of even classroom projects,” Gray said. “We have a lot of companies and a lot of third parties asking us to develop apps for them but our students have their own ideas, their own creations, that they want to explore.”

Matthew Bowen came up with the idea for the Pitch Analyzer app on his own, Gray said.

“What I try to do when I do research with undergrads is to try to find a hobby and the things that excite them,” Gray said. “That was baseball for Matt. He had the idea to create a Pitch Analyzer application.”

Matthew Bowen’s app won second place at the Microsoft Student Research Contest in Kansas City during his sophomore year. Afterward, Matthew Bowen reached out to Zarobsky and White as well as his brother. Zarobsky said he started working on the app during spring 2015.  

“Matt had a lot of interest in seeing if he could take his passion for computers and his love of baseball and combine them together,” Zarobsky said. “The biggest part that I was a driver for was taking the app that Matt made on a desktop and putting it on an iPhone, ‘cause no one wants to haul their desktop to practice.”

Zarobsky described the “magic” of the apps as being able to use the baseball’s fixed size to measure how fast it’s getting as it nears the camera. 

The University offers other institutional supports for students who want to be entrepreneurs, like the STEM-MBA Innovation Initiatives. 

“Honors College students who are entering the University as freshmen who are majoring in engineering, math, life sciences, physical sciences who are doing some pre-health profession take a one and a half credit hour STEM business honors course,” said Rob Morgan, executive director for STEM-MBA Innovation Initiatives. 

During the program, someone comes down from Marshall Space Flight Center at NASA who meets with the students and explains how to search the patent portfolio, Morgan said. Then students can use that patent technology as a base for a new product or business. 

Students will work on ideas for several weeks and present them to the faculty, Morgan said. The top 20 teams are chosen to present their product to NASA.

“Three teams from last year have started companies based on these product ideas that they had,” Morgan said. 

The challenge with entrepreneurship for students is to protect their intellectual property, Gray said. He urged students to be careful. 

Zarobsky would like PA Software to be used by all kids in little league and high school. He said the app’s goal is to help everyone improve.

“We went to the American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, and we won best in show,” Zarobsky said.  

Zarobsky said the ABCA trade show was a fun experience. While he can’t specify what happened during the conference, he said some people did have interest in his groups’ product. 

“I think the hardest part about being a student entrepreneur is being able to balance school, work, trying to grow your business and still being the best that you can be at all of them because it kind of stretches you thin,” Zarobsky said. 

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