OTTO: Bridgestone’s Autonomous Ball-Fitting Machine: Key Takeaways
- OTTO is Bridgestone’s new ball-fitter on wheels.
- OTTO leverages 15 years of Bridgestone ball-fitting data and a proprietary algorithm.
- Walk-up use at a driving range or indoor facility
- Free to use
Say hello to OTTO, Bridgestone’s autonomous ball-fitting machine. He’s new, he’s unique, he needs no operator and is completely self-contained. Think of it as the R2D2 of ball fitting.
And may The Force be with you.
If nothing else, OTTO is unique. It’s a self-contained, operator-less machine that will watch you hit three driver shots. And then, according to Bridgestone, it’ll automatically process your swing data and fit you into a golf ball quickly, easily and with no human interaction whatsoever.
The tech that makes OTTO possible presents an interesting story and is the result of 15 years’ worth of Bridgestone ball-fitting data. Just how accurate it is, however, remains an open question. Let’s get down to some answers.
OTTO: The Autonomous Ball Fitting Machine
Bridgestone says OTTO can fit you into a Bridgestone golf ball after just three swings. And you won’t need a person there to watch you or even run the machine.
“One of the areas we’ve been thinking about is how do we take all the data that we own from all of our previous fittings and apply that to some sort of algorithm?” says Bridgestone Golf Ball Marketing Manager Elliot Mellow. “That would allow years of human fitting data to be used and converted into a way to digitally fit someone.”
Bridgestone, with some justification, claims to be the father of modern golf ball fitting. It introduced live fitting in 2006. Since then, it has added its V-FIT ball fitting app as well as a guided online fitting program. That has given Bridgestone data from more than three million fittings and 2.5 million individual swings. Bridgestone has used all that information to create a fitting algorithm and has programmed it into OTTO. He’ll watch as you hit three driver shots and then the math takes over.
“OTTO takes into account demographic information and launch conditions,” says Mellow. “And then he determines what ball we’d fit that person in if our master fitter was there.”
El Solo Lobo
OTTO occupies about two square feet of space and stands about 36 inches high. He works solo; a lone wolf if you will. You’ll find him sitting by himself on a driving range, at a golf show or at a demo day, minding his own business and waiting for the curious golfer. There’s no attendant or operator. He’s completely self-serve.
To use OTTO, you punch in your name and email or cell number via the touch screen. He’ll then ask you what brand and model ball you use and then you go in front of it and hit your driver. The onboard MEVO+ launch monitor reads your swing speed, ball speed, launch angle and spin rate. OTTO will then tell you—literally—your carry and total distance.
“After each swing, it yells out your driver distance,” says Mellow. “After your first drive, it might say something like. ‘Great drive, you hit that one 246. Now hit another one.’”
Once you’ve hit your three shots, OTTO crunches the numbers. Once he’s done, he’ll either text or email you a custom-fitting report and ball recommendation.
“What it’s doing with that info is saying if you were at one of our live events with one of our master fitters, this is the ball they’d recommend,” says Mellow. “We’re getting all that data from all the live fittings we’ve done over the past 15 years.”
It’s a little more in-depth than saying, “Alexa, fit me for a golf ball,” but you get the idea.
Advantages and Limitations
No reasonable person would argue an OTTO fitting is better than a detailed in-person fitting using driver, iron and wedge. But then again, few reasonable people would argue an OTTO fitting isn’t better than no fitting at all.
The same question fills the comments section on every ball-fitting story we’ve ever done: Where can I go for a ball fitting? The good news is OTTO loves to travel. He’s portable and shippable and all five OTTOs will be hitting the road this spring. And, like Terminators, more OTTOs will follow.
In addition to accessibility, Bridgestone has also identified comfort as a major hurdle for ball fitting. More precisely, dis-comfort.
“The people who attend our live ball-fitting events play substantially more golf than the ‘average golfer,’” says Mellow. “One of the biggest hurdles we’d had is people who are unsure about swinging in front of someone they don’t know.”
In theory, OTTO removes that level of discomfort.
And, as obvious as the advantages are, so are the limitations.
Three swings. Driver. That’s it.
If you believe ball fitting should start at the green and work backward to the tee, that’s a big limitation.
“It does have a fitter mode where you can go more robust,” says Mellow. “It can do multiple shots and multiple clubs hit but that part isn’t fully autonomous yet. We need to gather more iron data for that.
“We do have 2.5 million driver swings in our data set. So we do have enough data that we can cover pretty much any scenario in which a player would be hitting a ball.”
Bridgestone is also working on a software update that will expand fitting to include 8-iron and wedge.
The Importance of Being OTTO
Give Bridgestone a pretty hearty golf clap for coming up with something unique that can potentially fill a crater-sized hole in ball fitting.
“Right now, we have about five of them,” says Mellow. “They’ll be placed at strategic accounts throughout the country. We’ve already talked with a couple of courses that will have an OTTO for a few weeks at a time. It’s battery-powered so they’ll leave it out on the range, wheel it in at night, charge it up and wheel it back out in the morning.”
Don’t worry about OTTO getting wet. Bridgestone is sending him out there with a little five-foot tent in case it rains.
Bridgestone’s goal with OTTO is twofold. The first is obvious: to reach more people with a unique ball-fitting experience. Second, to the extent it can, is to fit those people into the best possible Bridgestone ball for them.
“We know if we get somebody into a ball that works well for them and they have a good experience, the more likely they are to come back and buy that ball from us again,” says Mellow.
In its beta testing, Bridgestone found golfers who wouldn’t ordinarily even think about ball fitting will interact with OTTO. “It was interesting to watch,” Mellow says. “A whole group of players who were on the fence about fitting before was now all of a sudden competing against each other to see who’s getting recommended what ball.”
OTTO makes his debut tomorrow at the PGA Merchandise Show’s Demo Day. All five units will be on hand for people to try. After that, OTTO takes his show on the road.
Currently, OTTO is set up for outdoor, downrange shots using range balls (or your own gamers, if you don’t mind losing them). By the time you get to meet him, OTTO’s software will be updated for use with a hitting net both indoors and outdoors. That way you can use your gamers without donating them to the driving range.
“There’s a to-be-announced fitting tour,” says Mellow. “We’re looking at regional golf shows, demo days at retailers, country clubs, private courses, driving ranges. We’re not sure where the best niche will be yet.”
Mellow says right now OTTO features a male voice. “But if this thing takes off like we think it’s going to, we have plans to personalize it.”
I, for one, will gladly whip out the credit card if they can get that your-cousin-from-Bawstin guy from the Sam Adams commercials to handle New England.
“Oh, dude! You hit that ball wickid faahhh …”
Oh yeah, I’m in.
Bridgestone says the OTTO project started about three years ago as a pie-in-the-sky idea. The pandemic and travel restriction, however, gave OTTO a little kick in the pants.
“Once a consumer gets in front of it, they’re engaged,” says Mellow. “It’ll kind of sit there on the range but once the first person touches it and everyone on the range hears it talking, the interest is there.”
So Golf Spies, what are your thoughts on OTTO, Bridgestone’s Autonomous Ball Fitting Machine?
And, just for a laugh or two, what kind of voice would you like him (or her, I suppose) to have?
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