While it has been talked about for a while, the first effort to create a disc golf disc you can track electronically is underway and they are looking for your help. Chris Martin and his team started TOBU Discs to create Ping, the first trackable disc. Now as part of a Kickstarter campaign to finish raising the funding needed to push it into production, Martin and TOBU are close to reaching their ultimate goal.
This comes a little over seven months since the PDGA announced they would allow electronic components in discs. Martin was very active with the PDGA to make this happen and they are close to their final steps. We talked with Martin to learn more about the campaign, their Ping disc, and TOBU app.
What made you want to create a disc that is trackable? Were you losing many yourself? haha!
“I think every disc golfer has gotten frustrated because they can’t find that one disc that just happened to go off course. Many times I’ve heard people wish there was a way to locate their discs when they get lost. Lost discs slow down game play and it can get expensive having to replace lost plastic.”
“There have even been a few people who have researched further into solving this problem but so far, no one has gone through with it. We were determined to figure something out, not because we wanted to start a business or our own line of discs, but because we just wanted a solution to exist for everyone.”
How long has the Ping been in development?
“We have been working on Ping for over 17 months. There was a lot research into different technologies that we could use for tracking. We settled on Bluetooth 2.0 because it will reach a distance of around 50-60 feet and can be controlled with your cell phone. We also had to research quite a bit on disc aerodynamics and plastic molding.”
“Luckily we were able to connect with a few engineers and injections molders that helped us develop the product. We still had to make quite a few prototypes before we got just what we were looking for in terms of the flight pattern. We’re really excited with the final results.”
This type of technology goes right in line with the PDGA allowing electronics into discs. This was announced last year and seems to open up a new line of possibilities for disc golf companies. You say that you were the driving force in getting this new feature approved by the PDGA. How long have you been working with the PDGA on this?
“We cold called the PDGA in order to get in touch with their Technical Standards Director. Once we got in touch with him we told him exactly what we were try to accomplish and that we wanted it to be approved for tournament play. I think he was interested in hearing us out because the PDGA’s biggest issue during tournaments is the delay of game when a disc is lost. He also said that we weren’t the first to mention doing something like this, but no one ever followed through with it.”
“We went back and forth with the Technical Director for six months as we made design changes and asked that they be allowed into the approved Technical Specification. We made quite a few requests and they accepted most of them. I actually got to see the press release before the PDGA sent it out. It was pretty exciting. After that we began choosing our plastic and sorting out the molding for our design.”
Let’s talk about the Ping disc itself. What type of disc is it? What are the fight characteristics? It is currently awaiting PDGA approval, correct?
“The Ping is a distance driver with flight characteristics that are similar to Innova’s Destroyer. We are giving it flight stats of around 12, 4, -1, 3. At the moment, the PING still needs final PDGA approval before we can place ‘PDGA Approved’ on the disc.”
What type of plastic will the Ping be available in? A Champion/Z like plastic?
“We’re really fortunate to have connections to multiple types of plastic types from a few different manufactures. The Ping plastic is the first type that we decided to release to the market. It is very similar to Champion plastic, but a bit more durable. We have plans to release new types of plastic based on what our customer would like to see.”
One thing you talk about in the video is how Ping is cheaper than replacing the disc you lost. You say how if you lose a $20 disc then you have to replace it with the same $20 disc. What is the cost of Ping?
Ping will retail for $35.95. Customers get the disc, housing, tracking tag, and free download of the app (which does a lot more than track the disc). This is based on our market research as to what customer think it’s worth and what they would pay.
For many disc golfers they are in love with their Destroyer or Nuke, or whatever driver might be the envy of their eye at the time. They’d rather pay an extra $15-18 for a new one in premium plastic than switch to a $30 driver. Give us your quick pitch to this group of disc golfers?
“The Ping is a high quality distance driver. The plastic is grippy and durable and the flight pattern makes it an all-around disc that every player should have in their bag. The average player loses a couple of discs per year and will have to re-purchase those discs. With the Ping, once it’s lost and the owner finds it by using the app, the owner was just saved from having to buy another disc. So after going through this one time, the Ping has paid for itself and the owner has saved a disc that he loves to throw.”
Let’s talk about the tracker itself. Will it be housed in the center of the disc under the flight plate? Are you concerned about a reduction of glide due to the air not being as clean under it?
“Yes, the tracking tag will be housed in the center of the disc under the flight plate. During the time that we were designing and testing, we glued a lot of stuff to the bottom of discs. In every case we saw that every aspect of the flight characteristics were affected in some way. And the crazy thing was that it wasn’t consistent.”
“The additional weight and shape of the tag affected a Sidewinder differently than it did a Wraith, TeeBird, etc. Not to mention that keeping the tag attached was super difficult when the disc hits any solid surface.”
“The bottom line is that adding anything to a disc will affect it’s flight, regardless of the size and shape. So, even though we tried to stay away from making our own line of discs, it was the only way to solve all of the issues we were experiencing. Our design counteracts the additional weight and shape of the tracking tag so that we get the flight pattern that we want. Additionally, our modular design allows you to change out what’s inside the housing. We have some other ideas for attachments so stay tuned.”
What about weight? Most (not all) of the weight of a disc golf disc remains in the rim. Now you have to bring some of that weight to the center. Are you able to produce max weight discs consistently?
“Yes. This was another one of the obstacles that took a long time to overcome. Without revealing our ‘secret sauce’ I can tell you that we had to make quite a few adjustments before we got the weight distributed properly. We can now produce discs consistently with weights between 168-175 grams (including the housing and tag).”
What’s the battery life of the tracker? Will it be easy to replace?
“The battery life will vary based on how often the disc is used. But with average usage, the battery will last for a full season (about seven months). The housing screws off of the disc and the tracking tag twists apart as well. Once the tracking tag is open, the battery slides out easily for replacement. Total time for replacement is about 45 seconds.”
All of this connects to your TOBU app, correct? Give us the details on the app part of this.
“The app is set up with the disc golf player in mind. It’s easy to use while you’re playing and won’t take a lot of your attention during a game. As for functionality, here are some of the features:”
- Register players so that the app will keep track of their stats
- Register discs that can be tracked during the game
- Search for courses by name, location, or distance
- See a map of the course you are playing complete with tee pads, doglegs, and baskets – anywhere in the world
- Create your own courses and submit them to the database for everyone to use
- Add players to a digital scorecard that keep track of each players scores during a game
- The scorecards feed into charts, graphs, and statistics for each registered player so you can see how you’ve played over time.
- Measure the distance of your throws and record them
- Use the radar feature to track your discs once you’ve thrown them
- Turn the light and beeper on/off for each disc
For many disc golfers, you’ll need more than just a distance driver. Do you have plans on other molds? Different plastics?
“We already have a whole line of Distance Drivers, Fairway Drivers, and Mid Range discs planned. We even have molds for some of them already. We want to start with Ping and grow from there. Fortunately, we have connection with a few different companies that can provide us with a wide variety of plastics. Our plan is to stay in touch with our customer and find out what type they would like to see next.
What is your timeline if the campaign is successfully funded? When can people expect their discs?
“When Kickstarter is funded, we hope to have the first batch of discs sent out to the Beta Testers in April. After we get all of their feedback and implement it, we hope to have the first run of discs out to the rest of the backers by May.”
Now, while we have to hope the campaign is successful, if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal, will you still try and get these produced?
“We have funded this project out of our own pockets. The Kickstarter money is the last bit that we need in order to launch the business. Even if we don’t get the funding we need from Kickstarter, we are going to keep at it until we see our product on the market. It’s just going to take a bit longer.”
Is there anything else you want to cover?
“We already have plans to add more tech into the housing and get all of it even smaller and lighter. Soon, we’ll be able to measure the speed, rotation, and angle of your throw. The housing makes the tracking tag ‘water resistant.’ We say that because we’ve only tested it down to around 4-5 feet. At that depth no water came inside the housing. We don’t know how deep we could go before water starter seeping in though, so we can’t say ‘water proof.’ The name TOBU is the Japanese word for ‘To Fly’ (it has meaning and we thought it was catchy) and the name Ping is related to the ping that you get when tracking something on a radar.”
A few weeks remain in the Kickstarter campaign and they still have about $7,000 to raise. While the Ping disc will retail for nearly $40, you can get one as part of the Kickstarter for just $30.