Passion for hockey, engineering are driving force behind Helios Hockey

Passion for hockey, engineering are driving forces behind Helios Hockey


From the New Hampshire Union Leader

A Portsmuth-based company is looking to impact the future of ice hockey with real-time performance stats, infusing the sport with data-driven insights.

Helios Hockey, Inc. develops technology to help hockey players skate and shoot better. The smart technology uses artificial intelligence to give the developing player a competitive edge to improve by closing the feedback loop on key skating and shooting attributes. Mobile apps deliver real-time and post-session insights for practices and games in addition to engaging training experiences on and off the ice.

The technology is based on two key items: a “smart” hockey puck and a small device that attaches to a player’s shoulder pads and uses artificial intelligence to monitor movements associated with the player’s left and right strides, and then analyze the mechanics of those strides.

“Practice is not enough for developing players to reach the elite level,” Near said. “Access to top coaching, targeted skill development feedback and opportunities to be scouted are critical. Most players lack access to the tools for actionable performance improvement.”

The smart puck, infused with Helios technology - measures the player’s stick handling and puck control abilities.

“Helios delivers immediate feedback using proprietary AI hardware and software with no new on-site infrastructure,” Near said. “Individual player performance data around skating, shooting, and stickhandling is available in real time and as players leave the ice for performance improvement, training, and evaluation by players, coaches, and scouts.”

“Helios captures data for both individual and team performance improvement as well as big data for broad market analytics applications,” added Near. “Our initial focus is on the hockey market, but Helios’ technology platform and IP has applications in broad sports, activity, rehabilitation, and the AI Internet of Things (AIoT).”

The technology, according to Near, creates not only opportunities for better training and practicing but for games themselves, particularly professional hockey in terms of the possible entertainment value.

Near, who grew up in New Hampton and Moultonborough where he attended high school, founded the company as a lifelong hockey player and MIT-educated engineer. He spent the five years prior to founding Helios building the electrical engineering team at ClearMotion, a venture-backed automotive startup. He has bachelor of science and master of engineering degrees from MIT in electrical engineering and computer science, where he captained the men’s hockey team.

According to Near, the idea for Helios came a few years ago from the realization that semiconductor innovation in consumer Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning was going to be a “major enabler” for making performance tracking technologies accessible to the broad sports market.

“Traditionally only the professional leagues and teams had access to these technologies due to the required capital investments and bulky infrastructure,” Near said. “We started Helios to deliver disruptive, low-infrastructure performance solutions to the broad sports market.”

Helios Hockey and the Seacoast Performance Academy (SPA) recently completed the first deployment of Helios’ innovative stride technology. Helios’ wearable stride sensor was worn by 18 players on SPA’s U15A team to track 166,872 unique skating strides and individual heart rates during regular practices.

Data from the wearable technology was accessed through a mobile application and cloud analytics dashboard provided to players and coaches.

“We were thrilled to work with SPA on this initial deployment,” said Near. “It speaks to the innovative organization they are building to produce elite players capable of reaching the next-level of competitive hockey.”

“As a leader in cutting edge hockey training, we were very excited to work on the launch of this innovative product with Helios Hockey,” said Travis Bezio, co-owner of SPA. “It helps us take our training from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to being able to hone in on each player’s individual needs.”

Near said this fall Helios has a 325-player, full-org beta deployment scheduled as the company’s next major validation step before a broad market launch. The company is a 2020 finalist in the MassChallenge Boston Accelerator program, and previously went through the 2019 AccelerateNH program run by Alpha Loft and the New Hampshire Tech Alliance.