Composites have changed the game of hockey, delivering lighter and more flexible sticks that promise to boost player performance. But all this muscular shot power comes at a price: Composite hockey sticks, particularly the two-piece designs, are notorious for breaking, often at inopportune moments that can cost teams the game.
John McPhee, a mechanical engineering professor in the Systems Design Engineering Department at the University of Waterloo and an avid hockey player, saw an opportunity to improve those odds. Based on his experience using robots to evaluate the technical claims of golf club manufacturers, McPhee saw an opening to apply similar robotics testing to hockey stick designs, helping manufacturers develop high-performance sticks with lasting durability.
Traditionally, hockey sticks -- be it the old wooden kind or the more modern composite models -- are put through their paces with player testing, which McPhee maintains is highly subjective. Robot testing, on the other hand, alleviates any potential guesswork. "Player feedback is great, but it's not always trustworthy," he told us. "Put a stick on a robot and you can take the same shot over and over again and compare one design against the other. You can have confidence that the design is better or not as good. It delivers very repeatable test results."
The SlapShot XT robot can execute a slap shot like a professional hockey player at speeds of up to 110mph.
McPhee says the testing can encompass anywhere from 10 shots up to around a few hundred with the robot. But it's never around 1,000 shots, despite the fact the sticks being tested are scar- and nick-free, unlike sticks used in the rink, which are typically marked with gouges or chips that facilitate breakage.
While the hockey stick testing application seemed like a no-brainer, the robot design was not. Unlike the golf robots that McPhee was familiar with, the hockey stick robot needed to have at least two arms, and the arms had to be synchronized so they could work in tandem to perform a slap shot. The fact the design called for both mechanical and electrical control systems presented a second challenge.
Undeterred, McPhee and his team opted to move forward. Their first step in creating the robot was to understand the motion of the hockey stick during a slap shot. To do so, the team deployed advanced motion-tracking devices and high-speed cameras, harnessing real, live hockey players to capture the trajectory of the stick at different locations.
Your robot is a nice impact testor, but it is lacking in a few of the basics seen with the human slapshot! There is no rotation through the impact zone - something that all players do to varying degrees. Proof is seen with photos of slapshots that show the finish position of the toe of the blade. A properly executed slapshot shows the toe pointing toward the target. Your robot generates an open blade position, toe pointing 90 degrees away from the target - a no-no! We found this out when constructing a robot back in the 90's! Also, the "lower hand" is way too far up the shaft - also not typical of shooters!
First impression when digging into the article on optimizing composites for Hockey Sticks, was, “Gosh! the DOE fixture is going to be more of a design challenge than the actual composite design!” … and well; in fact, that’s where the article went.Accordingly, following that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, the world now has a wonderful, proven method of repetitively testing new composite materials for hockey stick design. This is what I call a game-changer.(Beautiful Robot, BTW) Subsequently, I see the NHL experiencing a gradual increase in scoring statistics in the coming years, not unlike the steroid era of MLB in the ‘90s. But this time, in a good way.
@Tool_Maker: I would have to agree that there is probably far too much liability to turn this into the "pitching machine" equivalent for hockey for the mainstream public. These machines deliver repeated slap shots of up to 110 mph. Professional hockey players might be primed to return these, but not the average Joe or even the avid hockey enthusiast.
@jmiller: You were right on to spot a correlation with this type of testing and what's used in golf clubs. The guys got their start doing testing on the golf equipment and that was the genesis for the idea for the hockey robot. As far as the cost of sticks go, they actually do sell for upwards of $300 so there is motivation to support testing that ensures the composite sticks don't break all that easily.
I would think the product liability costs would eat up any profit that could be made selling these to the public. Can you imagine the lawsuit if some over zealous coach overmatched his goalie by dialing this thing up to the next speed?
This is similar to a pitching machine, but the object here is to get in front of the puck. I think it would be easy to seriously injure a young hockey player by misjudging his/her ability and the speed of the puck.
I was wondering if these guys had any experience with golf club machines. That's a great example where this type of technology is used all the time to help develop better clubs and balls. I'm just a little surprised that there is not more of a market for these devices in the hockey market. I suppose the average hockey stick doesn't cost as much as the $300 dollar driver.
I'm sure if there's any kind of market for these, more will be built. And given the team's experience deploying similar robot technology for testing golf clubs, I'm sure they are on the prowl for more sports-related applications.
I hope the next step is building more of these. Not for testing, though. For playing! Robocup has little 'bots playing on a small field. Two teams of these would put that to shame. Heck, they're big enough to slap the soccer 'bots into the net.
They actually aren't planning on selling the robots to stick manufacturers because they don't feel like that's the right business model. The robots are expensive and the manufacturers won't really use them enough to justify a capital expenditure, is what they told me. They are, however, offering the stick testing as a service to stick manufacturers and have several contracts already in play. I believe they are also working with partners on using the robot testing to explore innovative technologies like new materials and such to enhance stick performance.
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