Skiing used to be an expensive pastime, at least if you were from the UK and traveling to a resort in the Alps. It’s now a much cheaper pastime, or at least can be. You can hire equipment or buy it second hand in still good nick and then only invest at the point you decide skiing is an activity you’ll enjoy long term. You can find good deals for Alpine resorts early or late season go for a cheaper region. Or you can find a resort in one of the newer international ski destinations such as Bulgaria, where prices are significantly lower both for accommodation and ski passes as well as in the bars and restaurants.
But whatever you dice it, as a beginner learning to ski, hiring the time of a good, experienced ski instructor is expensive. Depending on where you are it will be more or less expensive but if you want one-to-one tuition over the number of ski hours you would ideally like and need to get to the level you feel confident to go it alone and to do so with well ingrained good habits, it’s going to be expensive.
However, thanks to the rapid developments in AI, that might be about to change. Carv, a product developed by Machine Learning start-up Motion Metrics that has used the latest technology in the world of sensors and AI to create an AI ski instructor. Removing the cost of a qualified and experienced human’s time for learning to ski equation would slash the cost for budding learners.
How does it work? Well, it’s not a robot or a hologram skiing beside you and barking out corrective orders in the increasingly desperate hope of getting you to carve cleanly even if just on the barely sloping beginners piste. The AI ski instructor can tell exactly what you are doing, and what you are doing wrong, perhaps even occasionally right, from an array of sensors transmitting data to an app on your smartphone. Sensors packed into the insoles of the ski boots is an array of sensors that, via a Bluetooth signal, transmit an array of information to the Carv app.
Data points include the relative pressure exerted by the toes and calves, how the skier’s weight is dispersed, the angle of the ski edges and where they are pointing. Your speed and route is mapped by your smartphone’s existing functionalities. The volume data that informs Carv is staggering. 5000 data points are recorded and analysed over the course of one 1.5 second turn. And it’s all sent back to a cloud server, informing further improvements that will be made to Carv’s AI instructor. And it’s all sent back to a cloud server, informing further improvements that will be made to Carv’s AI instructor.
There are standard drills and lessons to tick off that will take you from complete beginner to intermediate and beyond, with constant feedback, corrections and instructions being delivered by an earpiece. More experienced skiers can also spend part of their day using Carv to improve their technique, either as lessons or feedback retrieved at the end of a ski run to be implemented on the next.
Carv’s hardware, the sensors that collect the data sent to the app’s Machine Learning algorithm, is manufactured in China and the system has been tested across ski resorts in the USA, Italy, Austria and Slovenia. But does it actually work? A host of ski professionals and top instructors have all contributed to the development of drills and feedback from reviewers has been hugely positive. Founders Pruthvikar Reddy and Jamie Grant have likened the enthusiastic input and response they’ve had to ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ but put it down to pure enthusiasm of those in the industry to get more people skiing.
However, the one caveat is that Carv doesn’t appear to be the best option for complete beginners. Not because the app and technology can’t provide drills that someone who has never skied before can’t follow and learn from but from the psychological point of view. First time skiers are often nervous, fall over a lot and usually need the calm reassurance, and assistance getting up from a fall, that only a human instructor can provide. But after the first stage Carv looks like it will certainly be able to take over.
The Carv kit can already be bought and is relatively cheap at just £299, though that is an early promotional price to get the ball rolling and raise awareness of the product. Longer term the team believe that Carv will be popular both as a product privately owned by skiers or as an add-on to ski equipment rental packages. The founders are also confident that the technology will be adaptable to other sports and pursuits and once they are satisfied with Carv’s development will start to explore other applications from golf to cycling and running.