Forget about those lucky few ballplayers with a natural swing. Most would-be sluggers have to work hard on their swing mechanics if they want to improve. A new training system called the Power Hitting Station may help by providing real-time feedback related to bat speed and reaction time as users practice their swing.
"Training regimens for hitters may vary, but the entire spectrum tries to optimize bat speed and reaction time," says Jahn Stopperan, president of TechnaSport LLC.
The reason why is simple: Hitters with the ability to react quickly and swing fast hit more balls and hit them further. "It's not just that faster swings tend to drive the ball further, though they do," Stopperan explains. "It's equally important that hitters with fast bat speed and reaction times can wait longer before reacting to a pitch. They tend to get more hits because they're able to make better decisions about which pitches to swing at."
While there's no shortage of training devices available, the PowerHitting Station should appeal to cost-conscious engineers. Stopperan created the patented product from off-the-shelf electronics and an existing mechanical training aid called the SlugMaster (http://rbi.ims.ca/4919-534).
"We're a small company and I wanted to keep the amount of custom components to a bare minimum," Stopperan says. "My ideal was to be able to obtain all my components from big electronics distributors like Digi-Key."
As for the SlugMaster, think of it as tether ball for batters. It suspends a hard ball from a rope on a horizontal steel beam that can be mounted to a post or wall. Rather than wrapping around the beam, though, the rope-and-ball assembly spins freely around the arm thanks to a rotary bearing. "The SlugMaster was designed for school, Little League and recreation department use, so it's extremely rugged," Stopperan says.
To turn this mechanical system into something capable of measuring speed, Stopperan grafted an optical speed sensor onto the end of the SlugMaster, adjacent to the bearing.
TechnaSport modifies that bearing by adding slits at 90 and 270 degrees. The optical sensor picks up the passing of these slits, allowing the system's microprocessor to calculate the shaft's rpm and the speed of the hit ball. The system will soon have a ready-set-go mode that measures reaction time — that is, the time from go to the first slit passing.
Stopperan says the system doesn't directly measure or display bat speed. For that task, he's developed a patented laser-based system called the BatMaxx. But he argues that simply providing the speed of the ball off the bat in real time offers a valuable feedback mechanism. "Bat speed is one of the biggest contributors to ball speed off the bat," he says.
Other factors within the batter's control include the mass and composition of the bat he uses, as well as his swing mechanics. And Stopperan says instant ball speed feedback can also help players optimize these factors as well. "We're giving batters the ability to measure, monitor and correlate the positive and negative impact of swing technique, bat speed, force applied, ball contact consistency and bat choice," he says.
For more information on the Power Hitting Station, go to http://rbi.ims.ca/4919-535.
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