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Why golf outside? Kakao ushers in AI-based swing experience

March 9, 2021 - 16:28 By Kim Byung-wook
Kakao Friends character Ryan plays screen golf. (Kakao)

South Koreans’ love of golf has led to a flourishing culture of indoor golf, played on driving ranges that have been graphically or photographically simulated on screens.

Now a gaming company has introduced an artificial intelligence-based service so that golfers can work on their skills at home.

On Feb. 25 Kakao Games, the gaming unit of the country’s leading messenger app operator, launched a golf training app that allows newbie golfers to practice and correct their swings in the convenience of their own homes.

The service -- available on the Smart Home Training app, developed by Kakao Games subsidiary Kakao VX -- offers video golf lessons from Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association and Korea Professional Golfers’ Association coaches, including Ham Sang-kyu and Kim Sung-hwan.

All users have to do is follow the instructions. The app uses smartphone cameras to check golfers’ progress in real time. The AI analyzes body movements and uses green highlighting to reward correct posture. Bad posture is pointed out in red. 

An artificial intelligence provides a real-time analysis of a user’s posture during a video golf lesson provided by Kakao VX’s app Smart Home Training. (Kakao VX)

Smart Home Training offers a variety of sports and fitness programs. Golf is just one of many that people can choose.

“Smart Home Training has become an app that represents the non-face-to-face era. In January, the number of monthly active users of the app increased 254 percent on-year. In the same period, the number of running exercise programs surged 298 percent and that of completing exercise programs soared 441 percent,” a Kakao VX official said.

In addition to swing exercises, the Kakao company offers the full “screen golf” experience. 

A Kakao Friends screen golf lounge (Kakao VX)

Screen golf lounges, or golf simulator rooms, have spread to almost every corner of Seoul over the past few years, serving as an affordable alternative for those who don’t have the luxury of traveling to the countryside to play.

Kakao VX is the No. 2 screen golf service in Korea, commanding 25 percent of the market with 2,100 golf rooms. Golfzon commands 60 percent of the market with 4,900 lounges.

Mounting a challenge to the dominant market player, Kakao VX seeks to apply its parent firm’s experience in the gaming realm.

In 2017 its screen golf brand, Friends Screen, introduced voice recognition and motion-sensing technologies for the first time in the industry. 

3D depth camera sensors analyze a user’s swing and provide a comparative analysis. (Kakao VX)

“In Friends Screen’s T2 screen golf lounges, users can simply adjust the tee height automatically with voice commands without having to use physical remote controllers. Also, in 2019, Kakao VX adopted high-speed 3D cameras and introduced motion-sensing services in its simulator rooms,” a Kakao Games official said.

The depth camera sensors analyze the user’s swing and posture in real time from multiple angles -- front, side and overhead. Then an analysis pops up on a video station in front of the user. The AI also analyzes the quality of each shot.

“As of January, the number of Kakao Friends screen golf lounges exceeded 2,100. Kakao VX is making aggressive expansion overseas, recently signing a deal to install 500 Kakao Friends golf simulator rooms in China,” the Kakao Games official said.

By Kim Byung-wook (