Nanotech golf ball corrects its own flight

Straight-shooting ball is one of a slew of nanotechnology products aimed at the sports market.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Scientists are trying to use nanotechnology to cure diseases, ameliorate the energy crisis and reduce golf scores.

Buffalo, N.Y.-based NanoDynamics has come up with a golf ball that can correct its own flight path so it flies straighter than conventional balls. The ball won't shift 45 degrees in midair, but the design of the ball--and the materials it's made of--serve to better channel the energy received from the club head and thus correct a wobble or slight drift.

"It also behaves much more controllably on a putting surface, which is how we hope to get interest on the pro circuit," said Keith Blakely, CEO of NanoDynamics. "It has a reduced tendency to break. It doesn't pop or jump or roll."

"We make the energy transfer between the club and ball more efficient, so you don't lose lift and distance."
--Keith Blakely,
CEO of NanoDynamics

The ball, which is expected to hit stores in the spring of 2005 and cost $7 to $8 apiece, is one of a slew of nanotechnology products aimed at the increasingly obsessive sports market.

Earlier this year, Easton Sports announced it was developing a set of bike components made from carbon nanotubes that would be stronger and lighter than conventional parts. Other companies have developed nano tennis balls that don't lose air and golf shafts constructed with nanomaterials.

Pennslyvania's NanoHorizons, meanwhile, has developed socks containing silver and gold nanoparticles, which kill foot odor and bacteria.

As with other nano products, the features of NanoDynamic's golf ball derive from the unusual properties found in designer molecules or components measuring less than 100 nanometers. (A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter.) At the nano scale, aluminum blows up spontaneously when exposed to air, while gold can take on different colors.

Research institutions now are looking at ways to manipulate nano-size particles to regenerate nerve tissue in humans or create new types of processors. But the first products to harness the properties found in nano-size particles are materials, such as electrically conductive plastic or non-glare windshields, that proponents hope will succeed today's plastics, ceramics, metals and glass. NanoDynamics, for instance, also produces nano nickel, which can replace more expensive platinum in catalytic converters.

Blakely would not reveal much about the design of the golf ball, but said the materials allow the ball to correct its flight path and how its weight is distributed at a given moment.

"The tendency of the ball to move off the normal axis is reduced," he said.

Distributing weight to correct a flight path, however, requires energy, which ordinarily would reduce the flight of a ball. To counter that, the outside skin of NanoDynamics' ball is stiffer than the outer shell of a conventional ball.

"A normal ball undergoes a huge amount of deformation. That elongation takes a lot of energy out of the club, so there is less for the ball," Blakely said. "We make the energy transfer between the club and ball more efficient, so you don't lose lift and distance."

The company believes the ball complies with the rules of the United States Golf Association. It will provide samples for testing and USGA approval in January or February.

The golf ball is the brain child of a couple of physicists who work at a technical institute run by the U.S. government. Blakely would not disclose which one.

"They were trying to figure out how to improve their golf game," he said.