MLB is trying to encrypt transmitters and bone conduction to stop stealing tokens

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Baseball is a sign of a stealing problem – or at least a technical problem, seeing how to read another team’s fields is technically legal, but using Apple Watches or Telecams and then bangs suspiciously in the trash certainly not. But soon MLB may try to put out the fire with fire: on August 3, it plans to start testing an encrypted wireless communication device that replaces the traditional flash of fingers with the tap of a button, by ESPN.

The device for the starter named PitchCom is first tested in the Low-A West subgroup. As you would expect from someone who transmits very basic signals, it’s not a particularly complicated package: one wristband transmitter for the interceptor with nine buttons to indicate a “desired volume and location,” which sends an encrypted audio signal to receivers that can squeeze the jug cap and interceptor helmet.

Receivers use bone conduction technology, so they don’t necessarily have to be against the ear, and in theory it might be harder to eavesdrop. (Bone conduction stimulates the bones in your head instead of making an audible sound.) However, it sounds like there may be other risks with adopting the technology. Here is a list of the restrictions mentioned ESPN:

Players found to be using the receiver during a stroke will be eliminated. only the active catcher and no other player or coach may use the transmitter; a spare transmitter is available but must be in a carrying case during games; and if players and coaches have to negotiate because of a problem with the equipment, they can report it to the referees and they will not be charged for a hill visit.

MLB seems optimistic about the idea so far. “PitchCom equipment was tested at side events in the main league spring training, and the feedback from players, coaches and office staff was very positive,” reads part of an internal memo Associated Press. “Based on these preliminary results, we are optimistic that these devices have the potential to be a long-term option to reduce the risk of chip theft and improve the pace of the game, especially with runners at another base.”

Photo: FCC OET

I couldn’t find any records for a startup called PitchCom, but one of its founders, Craig Filicetti, seems to be the same which sells ProMystic wireless technology to magicians and mentalists, like a box game that can wirelessly send a signal that matches a crayon that someone removes. ESPN mentions Craig Filicett and John Hankins as co-owners of Pitchcom, and two men under that name formed JHCF, LLC in November 2020. Both ProMystic and JHCF share a common address in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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