Tech Story 1
When precision matters most – why TrackMan relies on radar technology
Since its discovery in the late 19th century, radar technology has been used for diagnostic applications where precision and reliability are of foremost importance, and it remains the preferred technology across many life-depending industries. Sectors such as the military, navigation, medical, and extreme weather applications, all continue to find new fields of interest and discoveries using radar technology.
In recent years, both Tesla and tech giant Google have embraced the technology to develop self-driving cars (Waymo) and virtual gestures tools (Soli), which again confirms that radar is reliable and precise, yet still in its infancy as a technology.
Capable and precise – tracking the full ball flight and more
With the ambition to find a technology that was capable of measuring the full ball flight of a golf shot, TrackMan’s founders discovered that radar was not only perfectly suited for this function, but also that it contained a wealth of other capabilities and opportunities, due to its extreme reliability, precision and flexibility.
Radar technology provides superior performance capabilities through any type of weather condition and can be used during day or night times, and its waves are roughly a million times longer than light waves, enabling it to measure activities over large distances. TrackMan’s range of products track up to +350 yards, and is used and trusted by leading stakeholders in golf, baseball, tennis, and the Olympian disciplines of hammer throw and shot put.
Practical and powerful – quality data in abundance
In terms of capability, an optical based ‘golf launch monitor’ positioned side-on typically captures useful data for less than 0.01 seconds with a sample rate of up to a few thousand images per second per camera1. In comparison, the TrackMan 4 and its Dual Radar technology captures data for the entire ball flight – typically for 6 seconds at a rate of 40,000 samples per second per receiver.
To replicate a similar capability of 40,000 frames per second with an optical system would be very expensive, while producing a relatively small capture volume compared to a radar solution (0.01 vs 6 seconds of tracking). Just imagine how many cameras would be required to accurately track the full ball flight of a golf ball. Just the setup and calibration of such an optical system alone would be exceptionally costly and immensely impractical.
By contrast, one single radar system measures not only the entire ball flight, but also the club’s movement in the downswing, the impact between club and ball, and all the launch parameters including launch angle and spin rate. With 6 seconds and hundreds of thousands of captured samples to choose from, the data points are measured, checked, and measured many times over to ensure the most precise delivery of data possible.
1 An amateur player swinging his driver with a club head speed of 94 mph.
Robust and reliable – long life expectancy
A modern radar system contains no mechanical parts or lenses with critical alignments or flashes that need replacements, which results in a much longer life expectancy than other technologies. As a result, many customers continue to use their TrackMan 2, which was manufactured as early as in 2006 – meaning more than a decade of use without any degradation in performance.
Another reason why TrackMan uses radar technology is that it’s not dependent on internal or external light sources: a radar’s transmitter is considerably less vulnerable to outside interference and clutter as compared to infrared or light dependent technologies. Radar technology is to a very high degree unaffected by rain, fog, snow, or strikethrough conditions such as bright light or complete darkness. This is one of many reasons why radar is the preferred technology used in military tracking applications where robustness and accuracy cannot be compromised.
From chips to drives – measuring every shot in your bag
TrackMan 4 measures and displays the full trajectory of any shot, from 6-foot (2 m) pitches to +350 yard (320 m) drives, pinpointing the landing position with an accuracy of 1½ feet (±0.5 m) at 160 yards (150 m) or 1 foot at 100 yards. It also maps a shot’s full 3D trajectory in real time, together with all impact and launch information. TrackMan’s swing, club, and ball measurements can be broken into a series of events, in which specific data points are tracked and displayed:
- Swing data contains club swing delivery data:
- Swing Plane, Swing Direction, Swing Radius and Low Point
- Club delivery data: Club Speed, Attack Angle, Club Path, Face Angle, Dynamic Loft, Spin Loft and Face-to-Path
- Ball launch data: Ball Speed, Launch Angle, Launch Direction, Spin Rate, Spin Axis and Smash Factor
- Carry, Side, Landing Angle, Max Height, Hang Time
- Total Distance, Side Total
When diagnosing and improving ball flight, it is extremely valuable to have a complete measurement overview of the chain of events during the golf swing, club delivery and ball flight. With this chain or full picture of events, it is possible to pinpoint cause and effect in order to understand where corrective action needs to be taken. Note that the swing and club delivery are measured exactly the same way and with the same accuracy for indoor and outdoor use.
Indoors, TrackMan uses the ball launch conditions and feeds this into a proprietary state-of-the-art ball flight model for the ball trajectory data, which has been developed by comparing launch conditions with fully tracked shots – a luxury provided only when your technology can compare launch conditions vs. actual full trajectories.
Only radar technology measures full ball flight
A fact often forgotten when discussing the accuracy of launch monitors and ball flight measurements in general, is that only radar technology can measure the ball’s full flight and final landing. TrackMan tracks the ball from the moment of impact, through every inch of ball flight until the ball’s landing position.
No assumptions, please
Since the primary objective in golf is to be capable of controlling how and where the ball lands and ultimately ends up, the overall quality of a launch monitor must be determined by how accurately it reproduces and explains the real, physical landing point. In full ball flight tracking scenarios, an optical launch monitor has obvious restrictions in this regard as it only has 0.01 second to capture data. This limitation naturally omits critical ball flight influencers, such as aerodynamics and weather conditions.
Furthermore, it fully relies on perfect modeling – and not measuring – every single detail of the ball trajectory. To compensate for the lack of real measurements, many assumptions are made to predict the full ball flight. Assumptions foster uncertainties, and even the smallest inaccuracies in the initial launch conditions will be magnified tremendously when the full ball flight is calculated (instead of being measured all the way).
Providing the full picture by knowing the full ball flight
Only with a fully tracked ball flight, can a full picture be drawn. Knowing precisely what happens with the ball during and after impact, as well as during the full ball flight until the ball comes to a complete standstill, opens avenues of powerful insights and possibilities.
a. There’s no substitution for reality: TrackMan’s clientele of 700+ Tour professionals demand real, measured numbers when they practice distance control. Every shot is tracked down to the exact yardage, and assumptions are not an option when dialing in for a Major tournament, where players also need to learn how wind and temperature affect every shot. The same goes for all the Equipment manufacturers when they develop new golf equipment, especially golf ball aerodynamic properties. They all depend on real, measured numbers without any assumptions.
b. Normalizing data: Real measured ball flight data can be ‘normalized’ by taking out influence of wind, adjusting for temperature and altitude and optionally enhancing the quality of the ball. TrackMan’s normalized numbers are based on hundreds of millions of fully captured, outdoor, full ball flight tracked shots, and TrackMan continuously refines, scrutinizes and optimizes its normalization models, ensuring the calculated or ‘normalized’ numbers reflect reality to the highest degree possible, indoors as well as outdoors. TrackMan’s ‘normalization’ feature also converts range balls to premium balls and ensures that high durability, low performing balls can be measured and converted to the ‘most likely trajectory’ that would have occurred had the ball been a premium ball – an indispensable feature for driver optimization.
Other benefits of using TrackMan’s normalized data models
Normalizing for fitting purposes: it’s vital that the normalized numbers stem from real and reliable data when performing club fitting. Fitting accuracy is ensured from the millions and millions of measured, outdoor strokes that TrackMan has collected worldwide.
Normalizing for practice purposes: when the world’s no. 1 golfer uses his TrackMan in his daily practice routines, he can opt to switch between real tracking data and normalized, calculated TrackMan data. This allows him to compare and learn how to play certain shots under different weather conditions, boosting both his confidence and knowledge levels.