|20070202961||Golf accessory for keeping the golf grip dry||August, 2007||Andren|
|20090111615||Golf accessory||April, 2009||Prickett|
|20090176593||GOLF PUTTER||July, 2009||Raley|
|20060276270||Modified bat for sports training and method of making the same||December, 2006||Haney|
|20080045362||GAME MACHINE FOR PRACTICING PITCHING||February, 2008||Wu|
|20050044691||Method for manufacturing a forged golf iron club head||March, 2005||Su|
|20050177255||System and method for score keeping in a game of golf and a position coded paper therefore||August, 2005||Lundberg et al.|
|20070270253||Hockey stick system having a multiple tube structure||November, 2007||Davis et al.|
|20020160845||Training device for golf strokes||October, 2002||Simonsen|
|20090215552||Rubber composition and golf ball including the same as rubber base material||August, 2009||Okamoto et al.|
|20080153614||Green complex for a golf facility||June, 2008||Marshall|
 This application claims the benefit of priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) from an earlier filed U.S. Provisional application, serial No. 60/302,777 entitled “AUTOMATED METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR GOLD CLUB SELECTION BASED ON SWING TYPE” and filed on Jul. 2, 2001. The text and figures of said provisional are specifically incorporated herein by reference.
 The present invention relates generally to a system and method for matching a golfer to a golf club type based upon his or her swing type characteristics, and, specifically, to a compact, user-friendly system whereby a golfer may quickly and automatically determine an appropriate golf club type based upon swing type characteristics measured and processed within a retail location.
 Since the origins of golf several hundred years ago, those who participate in the game have sought to improve their performance through their choice of equipment. In particular, an annual ritual for many golfers is the purchase of one or more newer, improved golf clubs that “feel” better when swung by the golfer or that at least promise some advancement in technology, whether size, weighting, materials or something else.
 One approach to optimizing a golfer's game is to identify a “type” of swing of the golfer so that an appropriate golf club may be selected. Some of the prior art systems and methods used to provide a swing type of identification for the golfer are discussed herein.
 U.S. Pat. No. 4,137,566 to Haas et al. discloses a plurality of electro-optical sensors used to capture swing data from a marked golf club and/or golfer. The analog information is digitized and data on the positions of the golf club and significant human body parts are stored. A coordinate transformer allows viewing of a simulated golfer at any aspect, as well as optional graphic and/or tabular displays of the data. While this system is useful for capturing the swing characteristics of the golfer, the data must be separately analyzed by an expert and the process is cumbersome and not automated.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,111,410 to Nakayama et al. teaches the use of a video-based system which automatically measures and compares a golfer's swing to stored, reference swing data. Based upon the determined differences in the data, the closest reference data is determined and a diagnosis of the golfer's swing is made. There is also an automatic trigger mechanism which allows simple operation for use at a golf driving range, for example. This system is designed primarily as a teaching aid to improve the golfer's swing. The golfer's swing is analyzed based solely upon motion analysis.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,342,054 to Chang et al. discloses a video-based system that includes color video cameras and an infrared camera in conjunction with image processing software and data storage in a circular buffer. In addition, compression and decompression of data is disclosed. Optionally, a sensor array is utilized and various data displays may be chosen.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,772,522 to Nesbit et al. discloses the creation of a three-dimensional biomechanical model of a golfer which is superimposed with data of a specific golfer's swing. A plurality of markers may be used on the golfer in addition to triad markers on the club and a plurality of cameras to obtain the golfer's swing data for superposition.
 U.S. Pat. No. 6,083,123 to Wood discloses the generation of a custom set of clubs based on a club chemistry that is determined according to data obtained on the golfer's swing. A reference club is first defined and then inferences are made with respect to club parameters to create an entire custom club set.
 Published PCT Application WO 00/15311 A1 discloses an apparatus and method for analyzing a golfer's individual swing attributes and determining a suitable golf club configuration for that golfer. The apparatus includes video cameras for obtaining video images of a golfer's swing. The images are analyzed to determine the golf club dimensions that will provide improved results in combination with the golfer's individual swing characteristics. The golf club dimensions for modification based on the analysis include loft and lie angles, for example.
 Published PCT Application WO 00/41776 A1 discloses a video capture unit for recording and displaying recorded activities such as golf. The recorded activities are saved and may be separately viewed remote from the video capture unit; the activities may also be uploaded to the Internet for later viewing and analysis. Through any PC or other Internet connection, the user may input personal identification information associated with the saved images, and analysis tools may be downloaded for use with the saved images.
 Published PCT Application WO 00/71212 A1 discloses a method of matching a golfer to a golf club and golf ball by comparing measured values to recorded sets of data. The value to be measured is clubhead speed, and the sets of data for comparison include golf club loft angle, shaft flex, golf ball weight and ball spin.
 U.S. Pat. No. 6,086,487 to Morgan et al. discloses the use of web sites to query a user for information on his or her style of play that is compared to stored information to return a predetermined selection for a golf ball.
 Published PCT Application WO 01/28644 A1 discloses a method and system for teaching a skill such as golf to a student. The system includes cameras to create a series of images representative of the student performing the skill. The images are stored in digital format by a computer system so that they are accessible from a telecommunication network, such as the Internet. An expert in the skill then accesses the images, examines them, and creates a series of annotated digital images of the student performing the skill. The annotated digital images are stored for later access by the student via the telecommunication network.
 The techniques described above suffer from various disadvantages, including but not limited to a reliance on expert (human) assistance, expensive or complex hardware, inconvenience due to limited availability of the system, and data formats that may be difficult to interpret for selecting a golf club. Thus, there exists a need for a system and method for the quick and easy measuring a golfer' swing characteristics and identifying the golfer's swing type in a convenient location, such as a local driving range or golf course pro shop, for the purpose of determining an ideal club type for purchasing.
 A first preferred embodiment of a system and method of the present invention is illustrated in
 In either of the physical settings of
 providing a swing data collection system, said swing data collection system comprising a golf club and at least one digital camera, said golf club comprising a shaft with a grip end and a tip end having a club head attached thereto, said shaft having at least two markers thereon;
 having the golfer swing said golf club at least one time;
 using the digital camera to collect data about the golfer's swing, said data representing a plurality of positions of said markers occurring during said at least one swing;
 providing an automated data analyzer to analyze said data, said data analyzer
 (A) processing said data to determine specific values for a set of swing characteristics for the golfer, said data analyzer saving said specific values for the golfer in a memory; and
 (B) selecting a performance golf club from a plurality of golf clubs based on said specific values for the golfer
 The system then displays the data collected along with the selected performance club which best matches the specific values for the set of swing characteristics. The data may be displayed in either graphical or numerical form. The system may also be configured to play back the images captured by the digital camera.
 Preferably, at least one marker is positioned adjacent the grip end of said golf club and at least one additional marker is positioned adjacent the club head at the tip end of said golf club. The markers may include reflective tape, light sources, or bands of one or more colors. In a preferred embodiment, a single video camera captures two dimensional data and this two dimensional data is transformed into data representing three dimensional “swing” characteristics for the golfer, said three-dimensional data correlated to said set of swing characteristics. The mathematical analysis of the pixel data from a digital camera to accomplish the 2-D to 3-D transformation, or vice-versa, is performed using any method known to those skilled in the art.
 In an alternative method of the present invention, a “markerless” tracking of natural features of the golf club, golfer and/or golf ball may be employed. That is, artificial features such as reflective tape are not used, and instead a pattern recognition technique may be used for the markings of a golf ball, for example. The glove, club head, grip, etc. may be discerned without markers by discriminating between the natural features and the other, background images.
 In a preferred embodiment, the system includes means for triggering initiation of the capture of swing characteristics and further means for notifying the golfer of the state of such data collection. In a preferred embodiment, the system includes a key pad which includes a start key. The start key initiates a timer red-yellow-and-green lights or LED's included with the system indicate the status of the system. Preferably, a yellow light indicates that the system is preparing to capture or collect swing characteristics. When the system is in this mode, the golfer will preferably begin to prepare to swing the club and have his swing characteristics measured. When the light turns green, video capture is initiated and the golfer will take his swing and have the data which represent his swing characteristics collected by the system. When the LED indicators are red the system is not operating or is processing data and cannot be used to collect any more video.
 In an alternative embodiment, the data collection system used to collect the golfer “swing” characteristics includes two digital cameras arranged to capture three dimensional data. In this embodiment, the data analysis correlates actual three-dimensional data captured by said at least two cameras into a set of swing characteristics and determines a preferred club type based upon these known swing characteristics.
 In a preferred embodiment, the data collection, analysis and display occur within a specific time frame of less than about one hour. Alternatively, the data collection, analysis and display can all occur within a specific time frame of less than about 10 minutes. An advantage of the present invention is the ability to provide data collection, analysis and display of club selection results quickly—nearly “real-time”—to a golfer/consumer. Thus, with faster computation speeds according to the equipment used, the actual time frame is easily within a quick trip to the pro shop, for example.
 In a preferred embodiment, the system and method of the present invention includes a memory and the ability to save said data of the golfer's swing in said memory, said method further comprising an additional step of transmitting the content of said memory via the internet to a web site for later remote access. Preferably, the data maybe compressed and encoded prior to saving it in said memory.
 The data or “swing” characteristics collected and processed in the present invention may be utilized in an additional aspect of the present invention, as illustrated in the flowchart of
 In a preferred embodiment, a minimum of two types of data should be collected in determining a golfer's swing characteristics, such as club head speed and shaft flex, for example. In alternative embodiments, additional sensors may be used such that additional information may also be collected such as ball flight data including launch angle, or club head orientation at time of impact with the ball surface. Sensors which may be used with the golf club would include, for example, rate gyros, accelerometers, orientation sensors, strain gauges and magnetic components. The methods of applying these sensors to a club and their preferred locations are known to those skilled in the art. Miniaturization of components in particular provide the opportunity to place and use the sensors with minimal effect on the golfer's swing.
 In an alternative embodiment, sensors external to the golf club may be used to measure the club movement and angle.
 In a further preferred embodiment, actual movement of the golfer himself may be measured to determine his or her swing type. This additional embodiment of the present invention is shown in
 One type of camera that may be used for data collection is available from Cognex in Needham, Mass. or Vision Components in Ettlingen, Germany, for example. This digital camera not only captures data but has an internal CPU unit co-located in its housing to perform all or part of the data analysis. The camera may then be directly linked to a display unit to present the golfer's swing information and/or club selection results. Alternatively or additionally, the camera may be linked to a separate computing device for data storage and/or transfer, for example, over the internet.
 The transmission of the data collected from the sensors may be performed using a fiber optic, cable or USB link, infrared methods or radio frequency techniques. The computing devices available for processing include, for example, personal digital assistants (PDA's), laptop computers, desktop computers and point-of-purchase (POP) kiosk units. The arrangement of the data transmission connection and computing device is variable and may be designed in consideration of local space and/or power constraints as well as cost.
 The analysis of the golfer's swing characteristics may be performed utilizing swing information gathered as disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,792,863, 3,945,646 and 4,615,526, for example. These methods include various golf club configurations to capture information such as swing speed, club head acceleration and face angle at approach as well as shaft flex and torque. In addition, data relating to an individual's characteristic golf swing and ball launch conditions may be obtained in the manner disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,375,887, e.g., using a video system to capture swing and ball launch data from the golfer. These prior swing data collection methods all are specified for use as training aids, to provide feedback to improve the golfer's swing. In the present invention, on the other hand, such methods may be employed in conjunction with at least one digital camera, as part of a club collection process.
 Although data collection of a golfer's swing information may be done with direct video display of the golfer's image, alternatively a virtual representation of the golfer may be substituted. This image would be the result of having included the golfer's physical characteristics into a program already having fixed physical features accounted for in the data analysis. Thus, hair color, facial features, clothing and other such details could remain constant from golfer to golfer, but the actual motion of the golfer's swing would be customized.
 Exemplary methods to determine an appropriate golf club shaft type for the golfer are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,821,417 and 6,213,888. In the former patent, shaft selection is based upon values obtained for shaft strain as well as combinations of data including shaft strain and swing speed, club acceleration and speed at impact, club speed at the top of the swing and at impact, and swing time and speed at impact. In the latter patent, three strain gauges are located on the golf club to determine appropriate shaft torque and/or kick point for the golfer leading to a choice from four types of golf club shafts.
 Alternatively, determination of an optimum golf club type according to a golfer's swing characteristics may be accomplished according to a method disclosed in a co-pending and commonly assigned patent application entitled “Method of Matching Swing Type to Golf Club Style,” filed on Apr. 3, 2002, Ser. No. 10/116,688 That application is incorporated by reference herein. Generally, a set of performance parameters and associated value ranges are determined such that the golfer's specific values may be correlated to an optimum club type for him or her. Additional parameters are used to further refine the club, such as loft and lie. The present invention allows the golfer to have his or her swing data processed in an automated manner such that he or she may quickly determine an appropriate golf club specifically matched to his or her swing type and immediately available for purchase.
 Although the invention has been disclosed in detail with reference only to the preferred embodiments, those skilled in the art will appreciate that additional automated golf club fitting systems and methods of accomplishing same can be made without departing from the scope of the invention. Accordingly, the invention is only intended to be limited by the claims included herewith.