Artificial intelligence helps Callaway shape a better golf club

If you’re a golfer looking to take your game to the next level in 2019, we have some very good news for you. On Friday, January 4, the Callaway Golf Company announced a new driver and a set of fairway woods that it says will provide dramatically improved ball speeds that translates to longer distances on the course. But perhaps even more intriguing is how these new clubs were designed, with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Typically, when Callaway’s research and development team — headquartered in Carlsbad, California — sets out to create a new club its engineers come up with a new design based on their years of experience and an arduous testing process. That process usually involves creating a prototype of the new design and testing it out both in real-world conditions and using a custom-built in-house computer simulation. This helps the team to refine its initial design to get the highest level of performance from the product before putting it into production.

When Callaway set out to create its latest generation of drivers and fairway woods, however, it took a radically different approach. Instead of having human engineers create a new design, the company built an artificial intelligence system that could handle the job instead. That A.I. was integrated with the simulation software that Callaway has been using for years, allowing it to make subtle changes to see how those impacted performance and learn from the outcome. This way, the machine created more than 15,000 virtual iterations of the club head, where Callaway’s engineers usually only produced eight to 10 versions of their own designs.

Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s head of research and development, who gave us some insights into the process. Hocknell says that after years of designing new golf clubs and getting only incremental improvements, his team wondered if there was another way to build a better club. “We started to wonder if our engineers were getting in the way of the design processes due to our own preconceived notions,” Hocknell told Digital Trends. “Then we thought, is it possible to teach a computer to design the club instead?”

When the project began a few years back, the idea of teaching a computer to learn from its mistakes seemed like a monumental challenge. But over time, and as machine learning became more of an accepted practice, Hocknell and his team began to realize they were on to something. Still, when the A.I. produced its first design, the Callaway engineers weren’t sure what to make of it.

Callaway Golf Epic Flash

“The initial designs of the club head was unlike anything we’d ever seen before,” Hocknell said. “They were a bit concerning at first.”

But rather than just dismissing the A.I.’s work, Callaway’s design team decided to run it through the simulator to see what would happen. The results were surprising, even for engineers who have been working in the golf industry for years. While the new club didn’t look like anything they would have dreamed up on their own, the results in the simulator were surprising. Better still, real-world testing with prototype clubs confirmed the tests.

Dubbed the Epic Flash Driver and the Epic Flash Fairway Woods, the new clubs are capable of increasing ball speed by as much as three to five miles per hour. That may not seem like much, but in the hands of a skilled golfer, that is a considerable improvement. Hocknell said that translates to five to 10 more yards of distance on a given shot, which can completely change the strategy used off the tee or when approaching the hole. Those results come without any adjustments to a golfer’s swing or stance, and since the new clubs meet all PGA standards, professional players will be able to begin using the clubs on tour soon.

Callaway’s pro athletes have already been testing the Epic Flash Driver and Fairway Woods, but the rest of us will have to wait a few weeks to get our hands on them. The new clubs are expected to arrive in stores on February 1 with the drivers priced at $529 and the woods coming in at $299.

Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.

Here’s all the news from the Google Stadia GDC presentation

Google announced its new game streaming service Stadia during GDC 2019. Here is all the news from the event, including news on YouTube streaming and quickly accessing your favorite new games.

Amazon and Nvidia bring artificial intelligence to the cloud with T4 GPUs

Nvidia announced the availability of new mainstream servers optimized to run the company's latest T4 GPUs with Turning architecture. Amazon jumped on board immediately, announcing that new AWS EC2 G4 instances will offer the technology.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

This ebike is so good it won a prestigious design award

The Gazelle Arroyo C8 Elite ebike picked up a prestigious IF Design Award, scoring high marks for its comfort and balance, while also looking good and offering excellent range at an affordable pice.
Home Theater

Get loud with the best outdoor speakers to rock your party in any weather

From rugged, solar-powered backwoods listening companions to floating pool party jam boxes, the best outdoor speakers partner with your lifestyle to let you listen to your favorite tunes wherever you go.

App schools fishing fans on the best time and place to hook that dream catch

Fishbrain, a fishing social network and forecasting app, has introduced BiteTime, a new feature that takes the guesswork out of when and where you are most likely to catch a certain species of fish.

Hyperlite’s new 2-person tent weighs slightly more than two bags of marshmallows

Hyperlite Mountain Gear took the wraps off its new ultralight Dirigo 2 tent. Weighing only 28 ounces, the Dirigo 2 is the company's first self-contained, three-season, two-person shelter.

REI cuts prices on Osprey, Patagonia, and The North Face backpacks

Whether you're hiking, camping, or traveling, you're always going to need a decent bag to carry your things in. And with REI's Outlet sale going on right now, it's is a perfect time to pick one up for cheap.

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…

Yamaha’s Wabash ebike takes on gravel, single track, and more

The Wabash gravel ebike from Yamaha gives riders a versatile and powerful option for riding trails, pavement, mud, sand, dirt, and more, with plenty of range and power for all-day adventures.
Health & Fitness

Under Armour HOVR is more than a running shoe, it’s a fitness tracker

Under Armour HOVR running shoes bring more to the table than just a comfortable fit. With UA's Record Sensor technology, you can track distance, duration, and even the path you take as you run.

Trek’s new bike helmet is 48 times safer than the one you’re wearing

Trek and Bontrager have taken the wraps off of a new cycling helmet that uses WaveCel technology to dramatically reduce head injuries by dispersing the impact in a way that is 48 times safer than current helmets.

Under Armour cuts prices on waterproof backpacks with this outlet sale

Under Armour built its name on athletic clothing, but this maker also offers great bags and backpacks for everyday use. If you're looking for a waterproof backpack to keep your stuff out of the rain, Under Armour’s ongoing sale might have…