Rover Robotic Golf Caddie

The world's first hands-free autonomous golf caddie
Rover Golf Caddie

Golf cart rentals are an important revenue stream at the courses that offer them. But most golfers prefer to walk if they can, for the health benefits and greater social interaction. Tim Doane, an inventor and former executive from BP, saw an opportunity in the space between those facts. Tim and his team developed a feasibility prototype for a three-wheeled, self-propelled golf caddy called Rover — an autonomous robot whose prime directive is to carry golf clubs.

The prototype wasn’t ready for real-world use. And because the Rover is such a radical new concept in a centuries-old sport steeped in traditions and personal preferences, it had to work the first time, every time, to overcome skepticism. Golf is hard enough. Doane approached Nottingham Spirk for help with design and engineering improvements. Today, after a total of seven years of development, the Rover is changing the business and experience of golf.

A golfer employing a Rover wears a transmitter, about the size of a pager, on his or her belt. The Rover will follow the transmitter’s signal anywhere, at the same speed as the golfer and always about four feet behind. Sensors help it avoid impacts. The Rover can climb or move laterally along a 30-degree incline without tipping.

Our overhaul of the prototype began with a digital enhancement and a software-based operating system. We adopted new technologies from the defense industry which allowed for extremely accurate golfer tracking as well as outstanding flexibility for a product utilized in a challenging outdoor environment. In addition, we upgraded the technology to accommodate multiple channels so that up to eight golfers in the same vicinity can each use a Rover without interference.

The initial prototype weighed more than 180 pounds, but the Rover now tops out at 95 pounds. At that weight, it can follow the golfer all the way to the green, even on wet days; golf carts can’t do that. The body was designed to tip onto its back end for repairs or storage. Three upright Rovers take up about the same amount of space as a traditional golf cart. These features, as well as reduced liability, will help golf courses keep costs down.

Rover also includes an integrated touchscreen display for training new users with an instructional video, member login for tracking usage, and yardages to the front, center and back of the green. There’s even a mobile-phone charger. During the soft launch phase, pros and hobbyists at courses in the Carolinas, Georgia and Ohio tried Rover and provided feedback. Future versions could include GPS tracking management and additional features on the touch screen like weather reports and options for ordering lunch at the 19th hole. With the addition of a video camera, the screen could also play back video footage of the golfer’s swing.

For all its high-tech features, however, Rover’s greatest benefit may be helping more golfers enjoy the game as it was meant to be played, on foot, with friends.

NS was asked to overhaul an existing prototype for real-world use. Our team made many design and engineering upgrades, resulting in a very successful “Soft Launch,” due in large part to listening to avid golfers about how to make Rover better.

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