Programmable robot trainer pitches ping-pong practice anywhere

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Measuring 32 cm tall and 16 cm in diameter (12 x 6 in) at only 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), Trainerbot is portable enough to be carried by hand or in backpacks

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Practice makes perfect, and many types of sports offer ways for individuals to hone skills alone on their own time. But what if your game happens to be ping-pong? A team has developed a smart robot that provides players a programmable opponent to challenge. Trainerbot is designed to sit on a table and lob shots with complete spin, direction, and trajectory control.

Although the Trainerbot is not quite as advanced as an actual ping-pong playing robot, its simplicity and accessibility likely makes it far more useful. Measuring 32 cm tall and 16 cm in diameter (12 x 6 in) at only 1.2 kg (2.6 lb), Trainerbot is portable enough to be carried by hand or in backpacks. All it needs is any kind of table, a complement of ping-pong balls, a power outlet, and a connected mobile device.

The bulk of Trainerbot's body is actually a top-loading hopper that can hold up to 30 ping-pong balls at one time. Balls are advanced one by one to a short launch tube, where three motorized wheels are designed to control the frequency – shots can be set to fire as fast as every 0.5 s or as slow as every 3 s – force, and variable spin of each pitch. The robot also features motors set within the base help to provide precise direction and trajectory.

But what could make Trainerbot an ideal partner and/or coach is the Bluetooth connectivity with a mobile app. Users are able to style the types and sequences of shots they want to practice with. Whether one wants to repeat-focus on a particular zone, train with serves and returns, or improve overall reaction with tricky spin shots, the app is designed to cover all aspects of customized play.

User-created drills can be shared and made available for others to try out via the Trainerbot app. Those who want to take a break from practice can choose from other modes, such as a ping-pong match simulation or two-player competition for points. Either way, Trainerbot can offer fun and practice at an equal skill level (or higher/lower if so desired).

The team behind the Trainerbot has just launched a campaign today, seeking to fund a US$80,000 goal in 60 days. Pledges start at $329 for the basic Trainerbot robot, which also includes the power cord and 30 ping-pong balls.

Trainerbot has evolved through a number of prototypes, and the final design has been set. If tooling, certification, and production go according to plan, backers can expect shipments to start as early as March, 2017.

Check out the video below to see how Trainerbot is supposed to play.

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