I’ve played a fair amount of ping pong in my life and I like to think I’m pretty good, but last week a small plastic robot called Trainerbot pretty much wiped the floor with me. To be fair, I was playing in something called “Impossible mode” and Trainerbot was shooting multiple balls in my direction per second, pinpointing various spots across the table, and loading each shot with plenty of spin.
Thankfully, Trainerbot wasn’t designed to humiliate you. It’s meant to train and entertain with a combination of impressive robotics and a sleek mobile app that lets you program specific challenges.
Created by brothers Alex and Harrison Chen, Trainerbot lets you practice against any type of opponent. Just boot up the mobile app and decide where you want to send the ball, how frequently the robot should shoot them at you, and what type of spin to include. It’s particularly suited to practicing against a specific type of shot. So, if you have trouble returning your friend’s killer serve, you can drill at home for hours and then crush them the next time you play.
If you do have a friend over, you can also team up to play against Trainerbot in one of its more difficult modes. This is a good solution for those cases where one person is a lot better than the other and playing one-on-one just isn’t that much fun.
The Trainerbot app also creates a sort of social network for the ping pong-obsessed. You can create your own challenges and upload them online so other people can try to beat them. However, there’s no way to leave comments or really interact, at least not for now.
The robot is also designed to entertain. It can shake its head and bow in a way that seems lifelike, and the single turret in front almost looks like an eye. “We want people to think of it as a pet,” Harrison Chen told me.
He and his brother also hope to apply the same technology to other sports down the line. Trainerbot could help you practice your skills as a goalie in soccer or hockey, it might even be used for football practice. Harrison says the company’s overarching goal is simply to bring robots into sports.
Trainerbot is available on Kickstarter for as little as $329 with a super early bird special, but it won’t actually ship until March 2017. That’s a long time to wait, but this is a pretty unique product and based on my brief demo I’m already hooked. It’s just too bad I don’t have a ping pong table at home to go with it.