Cutting edge drone technology might seem a bit misplaced in a traditional sport like golf, especially flying high above the championship course at Oakmont Country Club.
Last August, in fact, a drone took to the skies over the course. Drone developer Identified Technologies in Pittsburgh had received a call from the United States Golf Association to assist with planning leading up to the 2016 U.S. Open that got underway this week.
"It's exciting to help the USGA prepare for the U.S. Open.," says founder and CEO Dick Zhang, a self-described "passionate golfer." "This Open has opened up opportunities we never thought about two or three years ago."
The reason for the working relationship goes back several decades. Oakmont Country Club had removed nearly 15,000 trees on the course over a 25-year period to recapture the original vision of course architect Henry Fownes, a designer with a penchant for open-style links, fast fairways and skittish greens.
Since the U.S. Open played the course in 2007, most of the last several thousand trees had been removed, and the USGA was looking to create a logistical blueprint in setting up stands, pathways, offices and more.
"We worked with them on the tail end of the construction and tree removal," Zhang says. "There had been so many changes to the area, and they needed to document them all."
Founded in 2013, Identified leases its Boomerang smart drone mapping systems to companies who need precision 3-D maps and a quick turnaround. Once a flight is completed, the dock station sends data to the cloud for processing and customer analysis.
The autonomous robotic system allows for fast adoption and scaling across distributed job sites, he adds, although never before had the company assisted a sports organization. The company normally works with construction, mining, and oil and gas companies.
Plenty of sports use drones to record practice sessions from an aerial perspective, as well as follow skiers or motocross races. "Major players in the industry are coming to us saying, ‘This is exactly what we've been looking for.' It's great for us and the commercial drone industry as a whole," says Zhang.
“The Identified team does an insightful job of uncovering new markets that can benefit from their technology," says Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear, the Pittsburgh incubator that works closely with the company. "I believe that will continue to be a key to success in scaling their business.”