Ph.D. Student Matt Maxwell is "The Brain" Behind Pre Play Sports
Pretty sure that the next play at a live NFL game will be a completed pass? Want credit from your friends for your predictive ability? Thanks to Ph.D. student Matt Maxwell, there's an 'app' for that.
Start-up company Pre Play Sports enables iPhone/iPad/iPod users to predict what will happen next in a live NFL game, submit their prediction and accrue points based on what actually happens. Pre Play Sports CEO Andrew Daines '10, a former columnist for the Cornell Daily Sun, says Maxwell, who will finish his ORIE Ph.D. this spring, is "like .. the brain. He came up with this amazing scoring algorithm .... essentially the more risk you take, the more reward you can also get." Former Sun Editor in Chief Emily Cohn '10 is co-founder of the company with Daines.
The application is "cloud based," with individual devices communicating with a server located on the internet. According to Maxwell, his scoring algorithm uses three years of historical data to estimate the likelihood of particular plays based on factors such as position, time left in the quarter, and other factors. Using a "secret sauce," it finds situations closest to the one on the field and estimates the odds of different plays and outcomes. Maxwell notes that there is a need for speed in communicating with the hand held devices, accessing the database, carrying out the analysis, updating the field position, and getting information back to the users.
The application is free and the company has no revenue yet, but they have plans for advertising and sponsorship. Last October 26, Pre Play Sports was ranked number 1 on Apple's list of "What's Hot" sports apps. According to Daines, "Pre Play has attracted top investors across sports and media."
While it is a serious business, Pre Play Sports is a sideline for Maxwell. His thesis topic deals with ambulance redeployment. He has used a technique called approximate dynamic programming to develop an algorithm for redeploying ambulances in order to assure emergency coverage when some ambulances are out on call, and built simulations to tune policy performance and significantly reduce call response times.
While the problem area of his thesis is related to Cornell M.Eng. projects for Toronto-based medical transportation organization Ornge (since Professor Shane Henderson advises both Maxwell and the M.Eng. teams), Maxwell's approach is general and is not intended for any specific organization. In fact, fire and police redeployment present similar problems, though not necessarily on the same time scale, according to Maxwell.
A paper on the topic, coauthored with his advisors Professor Henderson and Associate Professor Huseyin Topaloglu, was a finalist for best paper at the 2009 Winter Simulation Conference. Topaloglu says "Matt's research work has a significant computational aspect and he proved himself to be an extremely efficient software developer. I'm glad that his skills are finding application in a broad arena."
More recently, Maxwell has advanced the use of approximate dynamic programming to identify effective policies. He expects to graduate with a Ph.D. in May, after which he will join SAS, the North Carolina based business analytics services and software company. His work there will in yet another application of operations research - revenue management - but he has permission from his future employer to continue his involvement with Pre Play Sports. Maxwell is a computer science graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
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