Swingbyte 3-D swing analysis
How non-golfer Alex Pedenko came to design this golf instruction tool
Published on Friday, Feb. 01, 2013 01:15PM EST Last updated on Friday, Feb. 01, 2013 02:06PM EST
Over the next week or so I’ll write about some of the products I came across while attending the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. I’ll write as much or more about the people who invented and developed the products. The way I see it, the backstories of how the products came about are often as interesting as the products themselves.
The first product I’ll consider is Swingbyte, a wireless 3-D swing analyzer that is about the size of a key fob and that attaches to a clubshaft, generally just below the grip. It weighs less than an ounce, and delivers a wealth of information to the golfer about key swing metrics such as clubhead speed, swing plane, face and launch angle, and other important data. The ingenious product, known as Swingbyte 1, was introduced at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.
Swingbyte has caught on with prominent instructors. Chris O’Connell, one of the game’s most popular swing coaches – he works with Matt Kuchar, the 2012 Players Championship winner, and 2012 RBC Canadian Open winner Scott Piercy, among other players – is on Swingbyte’s Professional Advisory Board. Jim Hardy, the highly regarded instructor whose most recent book is Solid Contact – and who wouldn’t want that? – has pointed out that Swingbyte demonstrates what a player is doing at impact. That’s the moment of truth in the swing. Many amateurs tend to try to lean their clubshafts too far forward at impact, and so dig into the ground.
Information from Swingbyte reveals what is happening. The information can be sent to the player’s smart phone or tablet via Bluetooth, and archived there. The golfer can learn what he’s doing, track changes he is trying to make, and measure whether he’s improving in the important areas. The product is another innovation as golf coaching moves swiftly into the use of cutting edge technology. Instruction is becoming evidence-based rather than based on feel and impression of what transpires.
Now, there’s a lot more to scoring and playing to one’s ability than technique, but there can’t be anything wrong with developing a technically sound swing. Via an app that will be available this spring, Swingbyte 2 will deliver not only metrics, but also 3-D visual representation and data of what the golfer’s body and club are doing during the swing. Swingbyte retails for $149 (U.S.) and can be ordered online at the company’s website; the price includes the free app. Swingbyte has partnered with Guru Training Systems to incorporate its body gesture analysis for this purpose.
This brings me to Swingbyte’s backstory. I learned about it when I met Alex Pedenko, the company’s co-founder and CEO, at the show. He’s not really even a golfer. Pedenko, 29, told me that the first time he played golf was this past fall. Born in Ukraine, Pedenko came to the U.S. when he was 11 and eventually took a degree in computational mathematics at Michigan State. He went to work for a healthcare company, but tired of business. He craved an opportunity for more creativity, given that he was coming from the tech world.
Pedenko got interested in guidance systems, and wondered how he would proceed to build his own unmanned drone device. He told me that he bought a navigational module for $130 and that, in time, he learned how to capture 3-D motion over a very brief time, and to represent it digitally. Pedenko, who speaks Russian fluently, got in touch with two Russian scientists in St. Petersburg who helped him further think through his ideas. It had occurred to Pedenko that the motion capture technology could be applied to golf.
“Golf is a game where the ball doesn’t move,” Pedenko told me, “and the swing lasts just a second and a half.” The technology could be applied to such a sport. But how to proceed?
Pedenko, having left the healthcare company where he had been the information technology director, moved on to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. On his first day there, in August 2010, he met a fellow named Brian Payne, and another gentleman named Nathan Wojtkiewicz, a former product manager at W.W. Grainger, a Fortune 500 industrial supply company. The threesome was participating in a forced networking exercise that Pedenko likens to speed dating. The three fellows got to talking. Pedenko described the system he’d been working on in the basement of his home, and said that he figured it could be useful for golf instruction. But he didn’t know anything about golf. Did Payne?
He sure did. Payne had played for the Northwestern University golf team and then turned professional and played the Canadian Tour. Payne liked what he was hearing from Pedenko, who showed him a prototype of Swingbyte. They, along with Wojtkiewicz, who was now their marketing man, decided to develop the product and participated in a yearlong competition with 75 companies in a program called New Venture Challenge, the Booth School’s top-drawer start-up program. GrubHub, the successful online restaurant delivery company, got its start through the New Venture Challenge. Swingbyte finished third and started to attract investors.
Swingbyte’s booth was humming while I chatted with Pedenko. Business was so brisk that they had run out of the product by early afternoon that day. No problem; they simply took orders for shipping. Pedenko, the expert in computational mathematics who had gotten interested in missile technology, was telling me that, as a tech guy, and a non-golfer, of course, is agnostic about teaching. Neither he nor Payne is advocating a method of instruction. That’s for the impressive roster of instructors who have gravitated to Swingbyte because of the information and data it generates.
Sure, Payne, because of his experience on the Canadian Tour, can walk up to any golfer at any tournament and discuss the swing. But Swingbyte is all about the delivery of data. The delivery of relevant information about what the club is doing, and what the body is doing, should, with a knowledgeable instructor at hand, help the golfer deliver the clubface to the ball more efficiently.
The information is telling. The result is that Swingbyte should help the golfer swing right. And it all started because Pedenko, a non-golfer, was interested in the technology behind unmanned drones. That’s what I call a backstory.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
Lorne can be reached at email@example.com.
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