These days it seems that, even in golf, data is everything. High-tech data-gathering hardware and software have become the norm rather than the exception.
Launch monitors, equipped with sophisticated radar sensing that analyzes multiple aspects of club motion and ball flight, have moved from the teaching bay to the driving range. This technology has even become affordable for the average (if slightly well-heeled) golfer. Motion sensors that clip onto your belt, your glove, fasten to the butt end of a club, gather swing data that is interpreted by sophisticated software in an app on your smartphone.
It’s as far from persimmon and balata as an F-35 is from the Wright Flyer. However, what if you could take that technology and put it in the object that will gather the data: the golf ball itself.
The putting data you need, direct from the source
The folks at CoachLab have done just that, at least for putting, with the GEN i1 (“Jen-eye one”) golf ball. This new “smart ball” packs a 9-axis multi-sensor (that’s X-, Y-, and Z-axis measurement of rotation, acceleration, and position), battery and Bluetooth communication into a regulation size and weight golf ball. When coupled with the club-end sensor that is part of the package, the GEN i1 ball sends data on initial direction, impact force, ball speed, and rotation to the GEN i1 app on your iPhone, iPad, or laptop computer. All the data you need to evaluate your putting stroke and help you start sinking putts.
The GEN i1 was debuted at the 2017 PGA Show in Orlando, but really broke out at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Initial customer shipments began during the 2017 Christmas season. According to CoachLabs founder Jason Koo, “Initial reaction has been extremely positive… First customer shipments began during Christmas 2017 and are now in full force”.
Challenges of High-Tech
Technical challenges abounded during the development of the GEN i1 system. Perfecting the algorithms that interpret the data was a huge job. “It was much harder than we anticipated”, and then there was the engineering challenge of physically embedding and protecting the electronics. Not to mention balancing the ball.
The alignment line that is printed on the outside of the GEN i1 ball is precisely matched to an axis of the gyroscope/accelerometer in the core, allowing the ball to sense initial direction accurately. Of course, in order to achieve consistent, accurate putting, the ball must be balanced – quite a challenge when there is a battery and a sophisticated electronics package embedded inside. To achieve that perfect balance, the core of the ball is filled with a precise polymer/silicone compound that counterbalances the electronics package.
Speaking of the battery, the GEN i1 ball, while not rechargeable, is good for approximately 5,000 putts. That’s the equivalent of about 138 rounds of golf, at 36 putts per round, and even just putting, that’s a long life for a golf ball. Replacement balls go for $39-$49 apiece.
Play is the best form of practice
It’s not all business when you set a GEN i1 ball on the mat and open the app, though. In addition to the technical, ball data measurement and analysis functions, the software includes game modes. Compete on simulations of world-famous golf courses, and even conduct multi-player competitions with your friends or co-workers. Lunchtime putting tournament, anyone?
The developers at CoachLabs wanted to let people practice their putting without feeling like they were practicing. “…the idea to include games was part of the original strategy as it’s a way to get people to practice their putting in an entertaining way, almost as if they don’t even realize they are practicing”, says Koo.
Companion products to the GEN i1 ball include a roll-out putting mat and a breakdown putter that separates into four parts and can easily be stowed in a briefcase or backpack. With the ball and accessories, the GEN i1 system can go anywhere with you. Practice or play, at home, at work, or on the road.
The next step
With a successful 2017 behind them, the folks at CoachLab are looking ahead to expand their reach in 2018. Enter the GEN i2, a full-swing golf ball that will expand the data-gathering capabilities of the GEN i1 beyond putting. They showed a working prototype of the GEN i2 at the 2018 PGA show in January, and expect to start shipping the GEN i2 in the spring of 2018, after the Masters.