The day before the hardwood floor at Haas Pavilion at the University of California, Berkeley was to be ripped up and replaced after another year on the athletic playing surface, a Silicon Valley-based company got access to the arena to conduct a test.
Could Versalume’s thin and flexible optical fibers when embedded into the perimeter of the basketball floor light up for those in the arena to see? The cable was laid into the wood and routed along the edge of the baselines and sidelines around the four corners of the court and lit up just last week.
Kerry Keating, Versalume’s senior strategist focusing on the sport and entertainment industries, watched over the test and is a veteran on the college basketball scene. He had served as Santa Clara University’s tech-savvy head men’s basketball coach for nine seasons up until a firing that left him in transition. Among the players Keating recruited to play at UCLA while he was an assistant coach was a player named Russell Westbrook, who had been overlooked.
Now it’s Keating who envisions a bright future in which Versalume can use Corning Fibrance Light-Diffusing Fiber technology to colorfully light up the perimeter of basketball floors to be synchronized with shot clock and game clock buzzers. Referees right now have the ability to use LED-lit backboards to assist them in making decisions on whether or not a shot was released before or after time has expired. With the perimeter of the floor lit up, an official would conceivably have another tool and an angle that is sure to be within the line of sight.
“From a practical standpoint, the concept and idea of enhancing the shot and or game clock for referees in administering rules, I think it’ll eventually get to the point where it’s universal,” Keating said. “This is along the same likes of enhancing that.
“This could literally be standard in every floor in so many years—if we get this thing figured out.”
Keating helped outline a patent for Versalume that was filed earlier this month as the company looks to start lighting up courts across the country so that the visual ability of the officials can be extended. Versalume recently displayed its technology at the Connor Sports booth at the National Association of Basketball Coaches Marketplace at the Final Four in Phoenix and reported that its lighting model was well received.
“This went from crazy idea to plausible to probable now he’s lining up potentially a school or two to be beachheads,” Versalume CEO Mario Paniccia said of Keating.
Paniccia, a Silicon Valley executive and entrepreneur, had his children attend Keating’s basketball camp and ultimately became friends and colleagues with someone he still calls “Coach.” Relationships that could take Versalume to the next level in sports applications.
At the Final Four where Versalume was able to showcase its solutions and Keating is very comfortable among the fraternity of college basketball coaches, there was the sense that some of them would be highly interested in adding colorful lighting that can be bent, curved and wrapped around almost anything, while maintaining uniform luminous intensity without glare.
That means a game operations crew could have DMX lighting control for fan entertainment during pre-game introductions, halftime and events like Midnight Madness. That means fans could wear it on their clothing and players could see Versalume light up everything from their locker rooms to their warmup shirts in different colors. And for college basketball coaches, that means another way to impress recruits.
“He’s like, ‘Don’t give it to those guys. I want it first,'” Paniccia recalled how one college basketball coach reacted to seeing the technology.
Fibrance, which diffuses light from laser light sources attached at one or both ends, also can offer lighting possibilities that could enhance the television viewing experience for basketball fans. With infrared lighting, the 3-point line or free throw line could possibly light up after a shot from that distance. The players and people in the arena wouldn’t be able to see the light, but fans at home could do so.
Versalume’s lighting can be applied in the consumer electronics, automotive and architecture and medical industries, and it’s sports that offer another frontier with Keating leading the charge.
“At first, I thought that was nuts. ‘C’mon, Coach,'” Paniccia said. “Now nobody does.”