June 2, 2011

Table tennis robots

In the Beginning, God (I mean Sitco, I think they were first) created table tennis robots. They had many problems. They either hit to one spot on the table over and over, or they sprayed the ball about randomly, so you couldn't really do many table tennis drills with them. They were either set to heavy topspin or heavy backspin; there was no in between. And the ball was shot at you by spinning disks instead of coming off a paddle, like in a real game, so you didn't learn to read the ball off a racket. (There were other problems early on, such as catching the balls, recycling them, consistency, etc., but these problems were all worked out long ago.) Fixing these problems were, to me, the three holy grails of table tennis robots.

Many of the modern robots are now programmable so you can actually do real drills with them - in fact, just about any drill you can do with a partner, you can do with these robots. Plus you now have more control over the degree of spin. So they are starting to look like more than glorified toys with nets that could catch the ball for you when you practiced serves, which was my primary use for them for many years. (They were also good for group training with beginners, who were fascinated by them, and allowed you to put 1-3 players rotating on the robot while they worked on basic shots.)

So robots are now much, Much, MUCH better than before, and you can actually get a great workout with them. They are good training for players, especially the ones that have built-in and programmable drills you can choose from. I keep waiting for them to break out among the general public as fitness devices, since anyone can do footwork drills on them, moving side to side and getting in shape, even if you miss many of the shots at first.

But there is still one holy grail left. When will they come up with a commercially successful robot that does all of the above, and also hits the ball at you with an actually ping-pong paddle, so you can learn to react to a ball coming off a racket? This is far more important than in tennis, where ball machines also don't use a racket to hit the ball at you; in tennis, you have a lot more time to react to the ball, since it's hit at you from much farther away.

If interested in a table tennis robot, just go to any major table tennis dealer, and you'll see a selection.

USATT and USOC Blogs

Several top players, coaches, and officials are now blogging for USATT on their USOC site. I did one yesterday on "Develop the Basics: Strokes and Footwork." This was a reprint of one of the articles I did for the 11-article "How to Be a Champion" series for USATT. This morning my blog made the USOC front page! Have fun reading all these blogs; there's some interesting stuff there.

Table tennis camps

Ready to make a serious commitment to develop your game? Want to spend some time with others of like mind training together under a top coach? I've updated the Clinics section; now you can find training camps all over the U.S. (and two overseas), by location, coach, or date. I'm running five camps as well this summer (along with co-coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Zeng "Jeffrey" Xun) at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which are primarily for junior players but are open to all ages; see the listing if interested.


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