Skybox App for Wearable Devices Brings Sports Closer to Fans

An app created by APX Labs for the military has morphed into a game time, real-time entertainment app for sports fans using wearable devices like Google Glass.

Smart Glasses

Google Glass is nearing the finish line sometime in 2014 when it will be sold to consumers, and in the meantime, companies like APX Labs are creating intriguing apps that will let users experience a host of real-time adventures.

In the case of APX Labs' fledgling Skybox app, what that means in the future is the ability to attend a pro football, hockey, baseball game or other sporting event and get a torrent of relevant, informative and topical content on a wearable device, all while the fan is sitting right there at the game.

That's the dream of Brian Ballard, the co-founder of APX Labs, which creates what the company calls enterprise software for smart glasses made by multiple vendors, including Google Glass. The company also builds an enterprise app for wearable devices, called Skylight, which aims to help enterprise employees use wearable devices to do their jobs better in logistics, fleet operations, oil and gas exploration, and a wide range of other industries, Ballard told eWEEK.

APX started out working with military clients four years ago, he said, creating a purpose-built app that allows soldiers to use wearable computing devices so they can identify suspects, friendly forces and others using biometric features. "If someone walked up to them, they could see who they were [if their biometric data was in the system] … and also get other force protection information, such as details they need for situational awareness," said Ballard.

Alongside the military version, the potential was seen early on for other uses for such an app, he said, including for enterprises, sports and entertainment and health care, so development work was done on those projects, as well.

The Skybox sports entertainment version was just tested out by several hundred specially selected fans at the Jan. 14 professional hockey game when the Washington Capitals hosted the San Jose Sharks, according to Ballard.

Using the Skybox app on Google Glass devices, the fans were able to see real-time instant replays on the devices, view different camera angles, pull up player stats and information with simple commands, share game highlights on social media, and receive other customized and specialized information through a high-performance content management system serving the Verizon Center, said Ballard. All these things happen instantly while the fans were watching the action on the ice, he said.

"We built an enhanced fan experience with Skybox," he said. The app will work with any mobile smart glasses that use a network connection, which also includes Epson's upcoming Moverio BT-200 augmented-reality smart glasses.

A spokesman for the Washington Capitals could not be reached by eWEEK on Jan. 28 to discuss the use of the new technology.

Ballard, meanwhile, said that the fan reactions he heard at the Capitals game that night were enthusiastic when they got to test out his company's Skybox app. "The Capitals fans are getting to use it for a period or two, and then we are asking for their feedback about how they like it and how it can be better," he said. "It really is an amazing experience."

The sports angle, though, is just perhaps the most public demonstration of an idea that could have big impacts in other businesses, including retailing, logistics, taxi fleets, science, construction and much more, he said.

"What if it's part of your uniform?" he asked. "That's our philosophy on this," that any worker in any business could find uses for it to improve the ways in which they work. The hockey game demonstrations are an extension of that idea, he said. "When you're at a sporting event, you're in an emotional state. It's a fabulous way to show those fans a technology that they might actually want to bring back to their workplace."

That's where the enterprise Skylight app can be used, said Ballard, to help make workforces more efficient by connecting employees in the field to subject matter experts anywhere else so that they can work through a problem. "We call it 'see what I see.'"

Companies are already piloting such uses, including an automotive repair training company that is testing the app, he said.