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Pocket Radar’s speed-tracking devices help athletes track pitching and hitting velocity

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Pocket Radar co-founders Chris Stewart, Steve Goody and Grant Moulton wax nostalgic when they recall their early days as young Hewlett Packard engineers.

It’s like they’re speaking of a long-forgotten era when everyone had their own workbenches with unlimited access to electronics testing equipment and resources. Budding inventors could consult with technology gurus.

It was a culture they said was fueled by creativity first and rewarded by money later. That was before the dominance of venture capital and exit strategies. And that’s exactly the business environment the three veteran tech inventors sought to foster when they started their Santa Rosa tech company.

“This is all about building the right environment, where creative people can thrive,” said Stewart, Pocket Radar’s president and chief operating officer.

The company, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, designs and makes small and affordable radar devices primarily for athletes and coaches who want to capture the real-time speed of baseball pitches and hits, tennis serves, race cars, remote-controlled cars — anything that moves fast.

The company’s newest model, the Smart Coach, syncs with smartphones via Bluetooth, allowing the user to embed speed readings directly onto mobile videos taken of a baseball pitch or bat swing.

A simple search of #pocketradar on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter brings up athletes of all ages, from backyard hopefuls to professionals, sharing their speed results.

In late June, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady used Pocket Radar’s Ball Coach to send a message to ESPN commentator Max Kellerman, who had notoriously claimed the 6-time Super Bowl champion was “falling off a cliff.”

Brady posted to Instagram a screenshot of the Ball Coach with the radar display showing 61 mph, for the speed he can still throw a football.

While speed-tracking devices like the popular Stalker Pro 2 radar gun still are widely used by Major League Baseball scouts, Pocket Radar has become a smaller, more discreet alternative. It’s a favorite of high school and little league sports coaches who use the speed readings as training reinforcement and feedback, a way to show young athletes that proper physical adjustments can yield positive results.

“Every extra 1 mile per hour is equal to approximately 5 feet of distance on a well-launched ball,” said Goody, the company’s CEO.

Though Stewart has been an inventor since his youth, he honed his business skills at Agilent Technologies, where he was business manager of the company’s radio test business. He also held a series of leadership roles in research and development at Hewlett Packard and its Agilent spinoff in Santa Rosa.

Stewart is now a volunteer instructor at Sonoma State University and last year became the entrepreneur in residence for SSU’s school of economics. Stewart said his work with Sonoma State is his way of giving back and nurturing young inventors.

“We’re looking to build a culture of long-term innovation for the local area,” Stewart said.

Moulton, Pocket Radar’s chief technical officer, joined Hewlett Packard right out of college and several years later hired Stewart and brought him into his engineering group. Moulton later left HP and joined Next Level Communications, where he worked on high-speed optical and digital communications leading a team of several engineers.

It was at Next Level when Moulton met Goody. When the latter went to work for Cerent, Moulton followed but kept in touch with Stewart.

The three remained Sonoma County friends, meeting weekly for several years, plotting their next move. During that time, they toyed with a number of inventions and designs before they decided to innovate the radar gun. The primary consideration, they said, was choosing a product that could not be easily copied by global tech companies with far more resources.

“We intentionally chose the radar (gun) because it was much harder to build,” Moulton said.

The conventional radar gun’s technology is based on the doppler effect, bouncing microwaves radiation off moving objects to calculate speed. Moulton, who designed all of Pocket Radar’s electronics boards, said making the radar gun smaller was the first big task.

The design team ultimately reduced the devices main circuitry to the size and thickness of a credit card.

The end result was the Pocket Radar Classic model, a multiple purpose speed tracker launched in 2010 for $199. At the time, most radar guns cost up to $1,000.

After the Classic model was launched and its technology refined, the team spent more than a year researching specific needs of college and professional baseball coaches to determine their specific needs.

They did the same with traffic engineering professionals, developing a Pocket Radar iteration for those focused on road safety.

All the recent research has led them to exploring myriad ways their product can be used. One that is of particular interest is helping to reduce sports-related injuries.

For a pitcher, fatigue is often an early indicator of injury, while a drop in speed is often an early indicator of fatigue, Goody said. Coaches can closely monitor pitching speed with an eye on noticeable declines.

Going forward, the Pocket Radar team says they are focused on continuing to build their brand in the sports arena.

“The overall sports tech industry is growing like crazy right now and we are focused on making high value technology available to the broad market at an affordable cost,” Stewart said.

Stewart declined to discuss specific products being planned for the future, but he said the company has big plans for expanding its software capabilities.

It’s been a rapid pace of growth for the enterprise. The company has launched eight products in 8 years, all the while growing the customer base. A decade after the firm’s launch, many local schools now have one of its radar guns for use by sports coaches.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve rapidly democratized the radar gun, we made it accessible to the masses,” Stewart said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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