Tom Kudirka, founder of Omaha-based vGolf, is building on his experience from the video game world to release the world’s first mixed reality golf simulator.
The simulator allows the user to virtually play a real world golf course by wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses and hitting a ball into a net or onto a driving range.
Kudirka learned his way around the video game industry in Tulsa, Oklahoma before recently moving back to his hometown of Omaha, where he started vGolf.
“I’m a South Omaha boy, and moved to Tulsa in my 20’s,” said Kudirka. “I started a small video game company and worked my way up, making bigger and bigger games until we were fortunate enough to work with Steven Spielberg on his new franchise Medal of Honor Allied Assault.”
Some members of his team eventually moved to Los Angeles where they formed Infinity Ward and created the mega-hit Call of Duty. Today, with vGolf, he is able to draw on the game industry connections to quickly build a prototype and assemble a development team.
How vGolf works
“The way it works is you put on a pair of augmented reality glasses that are a little bigger than a pair of Oakley sunglasses,” said Kudirka.
A launch monitor is placed about four feet behind the ball and measures the launch angle, spin, speed, etc. “In your view, when you hit the ball, you see the actual arc of the ball, all the data and so forth,” explained Kudirka.
The platform leverages two technologies including doppler radar and high-speed photography. He explained the high detail captured by the system being like videos of a slow motion capture of a drop of water hitting.
Once the user hits the golf ball and the data is collected, the virtual flight of the golf ball is rendered in the glasses within the virtual golf course.
“What we’re doing is called mixed reality,” said Kudirka. “When you look down, your glasses allow you to see your golf ball.
Once you hit the ball and follow through, you’re immediately surrounded in a 360° panoramic of an actual golf course such as Augusta, Pebble Beach or the course you selected.”
Two separate worlds
Kudirka explained to me that the biggest challenge he had to overcome was bringing together two very different worlds. “The major problem is that most golfers have no idea… what virtual reality is… and then of course, the people in the VR/AR business… the last thing they want to hear about is golf. So, there’s a large disconnect.”
vGolf plans to offer a more affordable alternative to expensive golf simulators on the market that range from $20,000 to $100,000. “Technology is moving really fast. By using augmented technology, we’re able to provide a much better experience at about a fourth of the price.”
I asked if he considered the large golf simulator companies his competition, and his answer surprised me. “We’ve talked to several large golf simulator companies… what they basically said was… ‘can we add vGolf to our golf simulators?’ So, I’m taking what is competition and forming strategic alliances.”
The next step
Now that vGolf has a working prototype, Kudirka is looking to the future. “We’ve completed a very precise prototype. We can hit a golf ball into a net and see all of the data… So the product itself is working.”
The next step is to record golf course data from some of the most prestigious golf courses in the world. “We’re doing full blown golf courses, which is a lot of space… a lot of places you can hit the golf ball,” Kudirka explains, “The amount of data you need to collect to be accurate to a real golf course is enormous.”
In order to build the product, collect the data, and go to market, Kudirka plans to hire. “We are looking at hiring a team of about 25 people in the near future, and a lot of them are going to be from around here,” said Kudirka.
“In the future, I see us moving forward quickly with getting this product on the market… The next phase is basically some sort of strategic alliance or maybe some investment infusion that allows us to go straight to market.”
Brian Lee is the Managing Director of Silicon Prairie News.