Basketball, like most sports, is difficult. That’s why we pay a lot of money to watch professionals demonstrate how it’s supposed to be done. Even if you ignore all of that pesky running, dribbling, goal tending, and so on, it’s not exactly easy to get the ball through the hoop. If you haven’t played basketball since high school, go shoot some free throws and see how you do. Fortunately for those of us who lean more towards geek than jock, technology can help. Shane Wighton, of the Stuff Made Here YouTube channel, proved that by building a robotic basketball hoop that makes it nearly impossible to miss a shot.
Wighton actually tackled a similar project a few months back. He started by assembling a hoop with a kind of parabolic backboard that made it much easier to get the ball through the hoop as long as it hits the backboard. That wasn’t perfect, so he then created a robotic backboard that would actually tilt in order to direct the basketball through the hoop. That worked quite well, but still had one problem: the player has to hit the backboard. His newest version of the unmissable basketball hoop works even if you don’t have the skill to get anywhere close to the backboard or hoop. Just toss the basketball somewhere within a few feet, and the hoop will move to intercept the ball.
To accomplish this, Wighton essentially turned one entire wall of his basement into a giant CNC machine. The basketball backboard and hoop are attached to a carriage that rides on a pair of vertical carbon fiber rods. Those rods, in turn, ride on horizontal rails constructed from aluminum extrusion. The backboard is on a pivot and is capable of tilting up and down. To reduce the weight of the moving parts as much as possible, Wighton’s design keeps all of the motors stationary and routes the belts to the vertical axis and tilt axis. That means those are intrinsically linked to the movement of the horizontal axis, and all of the motors have to be coordinated.
This setup makes it possible to position the backboard anywhere on the wall and tilt its angle as necessary, but the system still needs to know where to go to catch the ball. A Microsoft Kinect sensor mounted to the ceiling is used to track the ball. A lot of clever programming and sophisticated math that I don’t understand was then used to calculate the trajectory of the ball and the backboard angle needed to get it through the hoop. The result is a robotic basketball hoop that simply won’t allow you to miss a shot, which is perfect for those of us who are more comfortable in a hackerspace than on a basketball court.