Can Ai Replace Human Ski Coaches?
Skiing is an industry that has been essentially untouched by modern technology until recently. Could AI revolutionize an outdated industry?
Carv, an app launched in December 2017, uses sensors embedded in ski boot footbeds to collect over 5000 pieces of data for every turn you make. Using bluetooth, the data goes from the footbeds to the user’s smartphone to Carv’s servers in Frankfurt, Germany. Carv then analyzes the data in order to provide advanced skiing statistics. Carv provides statistics on how long it takes you to transition from turn to turn, how early in the turn you apply pressure, if your weight is forward enough, and if your body is facing down the fall line.
Carv also analyzes the edge angles, tempo, and symmetry of your turns. Because many intermediate skiers are not able to interpret these statistics, the app provides a simpler Ski IQ score based on the quality of your run. Additionally, after every turn, the app either rewards you with a satisfying chime, or indicates a bad turn with a low beep. The app then displays your statistics on your phone while you are riding back up the lift.
The app also allows users to choose between different levels of instructional drills. To help instruct users during drills, the online coach talks to them via wireless headphones. Jamie Grant is the co-founder and CEO of Motion Metrics, Carv’s parent company, and an avid skier. In an interview about Carv, Grant said, “Rather than just give the raw data, and appeal to a niche of serious racers, we decided we wanted to create a coaching experience which will actually teach the average person how to get better.”
Motion Metrics, Carv’s parent company, is a start-up with roots in finance, especially machine learning and artificial intelligence. Grant met Pruthvikar Reddy while working as an intern at Barclays Capital and getting his PhD in financial economics at Imperial College London. Together, they founded Motion Metrics. Through Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge, a program that helps raise capital for startups, they got backers such as Alex Hoye, the CEO of ski maker Faction.
Carv is currently in discussion with ski brands to build ski boots with Carv technology inside them, both for retail and renting. Carv’s technologies can also be used in medicine as well as other sports such as cycling, running, and golf. For example, sensors similar to Carv’s are already being implemented in the braces used to treat scoliosis. These sensors give doctors quantifiable data so that they do not have to rely solely on patient interviews.
Despite its success and low cost compared to a ski coach (a private lesson with a coach can cost nearly $100 an hour, while Carv is a one-time payment of $250), Carv has not yet replaced human ski coaches. In fact, elite coaches, such as Jonothan Ballou - head of the Aspen ski school - have endorsed Carv and have worked with developers to improve it. Carv’s lack of popularity is partly due to its inability to teach beginners. Additionally, Carv doesn’t have extensive knowledge of the tendencies of skiers of different levels. Carv is also unable to analyze users’ form as a whole. Unlike an experienced ski coach, Carv cannot currently act as a guide through the mountain, leaving many skiers with the fear of getting lost. Finally, skiing has a social component. Using a bluetooth device rules out the possibility of conversation as you’re making your way down the mountain.
It is also possible that Carv could supplement traditional ski coaching by allowing technically sophisticated coaches to use it to improve their teaching. For example, coaches could combine their knowledge with statistics from Carv in order to show skiers flaws in their skiing. Coaches could also use Carv’s statistics to indicate the skiers progress in improving their skiing.
At the moment, Carv is mostly being used by skiers interested in improving at an accelerated rate. However, Carv is always learning. Every turn you make creates data that is stored in its servers, so the program can learn which instructions and drills you respond positively to and can compare you to similar skiers. “The endgame is that everything is optimised just for you,” said co-founder and CEO Grant. While Carv has yet to establish itself as a company, its low cost could lead to it supplementing or replacing ski coaches once its program learns what drills people respond best to, gains valuable skiing experience, and is able to analyze skiers’ form as a whole.
Written by Lorenzo Lizzeri, Edited by William Turchetta & Alexander Fleiss