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Universal Electronic Tabletop Sports Platform

I wanted to share my progress on a personal project I worked on over the last couple of years. It went from a "it would be cool to do" to a "how far can I take it" project... from a simple hacked together gizmo to a solid prototype with tons of bells and whistles. And so what is it? Well, if you've ever played a table hockey game at the arcade, also known as "Bubble Hockey", then this project would represent the electronic parts of it. That is, the parts that sense a goal, keep track of the score, play audio like the goal horn and crowd cheering, and automatically drop a puck on a faceoff. Yeah, basically all the cool stuff that makes the game more exciting and the experience feel closer to the real thing.

Now I know these days there are video games that have almost photo realistic graphics that get that real world feel I’m trying to capture. But video games cannot capture that physical connection traditional table hockey has. In trying to simulate reality video games force you to memorize dozens of button clicks that initiate whatever actions your “players” needs to perform. There is a huge disconnect between the virtual world simulation and a live persons actions. Conversely in table hockey the play is based on simple and intuitive physical reactions, a direct connection to a real puck, a visceral experience that provides satisfaction when do a quick pass and find a sliver of an opening to score that goal. Now imagine the goal horn blasting, crowd cheering, and announcer yelling right afterwards! That’s what this project is about.

Imagine a universal electronic platform not limited to one type of hockey table, or even to the sport of hockey. A platform that can theoretically support any sport you can imagine. And how is this possible? Basically if you break down the platform into its basic components then it can be made modular enough to provide that flexibility.

You have a main controller, the brains of the system that runs the gaming rules engine. All the parameters the game runs under are set here. It would also respond to feedback from sensors, making decisions what rules to enforce at certain moments.

The display driver and display, a way of providing each player a visual representation of the current game status. The display could be as simple as a few lights, a classic styled scoreboard, or modern LCD screen. Really depends how informative and interactive you want to be.

The media controller, media in the basic case being sounds that are invoked by various events that occur during game play. Events could be a goal, a faceoff, or even the end of a period. They all have distinct sounds that will reinforce the feeling of a real situation.

And that’s it, all the basic components you need that can be repurposed for any type of game. But for now let’s take a step back and focus on table hockey, the inspiration for this universal platform.

There are multitudes of hockey tables available but one of the easiest to come across and can be setup to be played anywhere is the one by Stiga. It’s small and light for easy storage and has descent quality to make game play enjoyable with three dimensional figurines and behind the net play. It’s also the only one used by the International Table Hockey Federation. Here is an example of one.

stiga-table-hockey

The long term plan is to support any brand of table hockey, but again this is a good place to begin.

I already have much of the work finished for the design and modeling of the components for the platform. Here are three configurations for a classic styled scoreboard display. The first one would be an overhead scoreboard with puck drop aligned to centre ice. A pair of arms would suspend the scoreboard with all the wiring needed to power the display traveling within them.
HockeyGameboard_Config_A
The last two are similar with the scoreboard mounted at the side of the playing surface at the center line. The puck drop would be hung over centre ice by an extended arm. The configurations differ only by the eye level, low or high, of the scoreboard.

The platform is designed to be modular with only a couple of parts needing to be changed in order to fit a different table hockey brand. And how is the prototype currently being manufactured? All the parts can be 3D printed and the custom circuit boards manufactured for less than $10 in China (minus soldering the components manually myself of course).

I will follow up this post with more details of the platform, how the sensors connect, all the features, and even some videos of it in action. There is definitely a lot to cover here and hopefully this topic has caught your interest. I’ll try to provide weekly content as I progress in building the latest prototype.

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With 20+ years experience in programming and website development Simon has recently dipped his toes in electronics, and inspired by many great bloggers preceding him he created Simon Says Anything.
Toronto