Outrageous Engineering Challenge – Air Hockey Robot

By Lindsay Farlow | Feb 20, 2013

In honor of our 15th anniversary this year, we’re counting down some of the most outrageous engineering challenges that we’ve faced in our 15 years of electronic design services. Starting off is the Air Hockey Robot, a project from 2008.

The Original Design

The Air Hockey robot was designed for Freescale, to showcase their ColdFire microcontroller at the Freescale Technology Forum.  Forum attendees would be able to toggle between operating the robot on an 8-bit 9S08 microcontroller and a ColdFire, and would note the increased difficulty of playing the robot while it was running on the ColdFire processor.

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            Initial conceptual drawing of the Air Hockey Robot

The concept on its own was fairly outrageous; after all, no one had ever built anything close to what Freescale was looking for.  But what made the project truly crazy was that the robot had a limited budget and needed to be designed, built, and shipped to Florida in TEN WEEKS.

It was an imposing timeline, and Freescale was beginning to seriously consider alternative options for the demo after several design houses had told them it was impossible.  Luckily Nuvation was up to the task, and a team consisting of Mohan Gurunathan, Murat Ozkan, and Edward Ayrapetian was quickly formed.  The only problem?  They didn’t know a thing about air hockey.

Testing the Arm

Not to be deterred, the intrepid engineers headed to the arcade for some field research. They got a feel for the physics governing the puck motion on the table: how fast the puck moved, how it bounced, and how much energy it lost on a bounce.

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                        Edward and Murat testing the robotic arm

An off-the-shelf robotic arm (designed for painting and sanding parts) was selected.  The team began designing a tracking system to determine the position of the puck on the table, and a control system to coordinate the movement of the robot.

Winning "People's Choice Award"

Ten short weeks later, the Nuvation team arrived in Florida and got the exhibit set up just in time for hundreds of people to face off against the robot. And, their efforts paid off – the demo was a huge success, and Nuvation received Freescale’s “People’s Choice Award” for best innovation.

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           Mohan and Edward setting up their baby. Smiles all around!

Since the original tradeshow in 2008, a second generation system with higher processing power and more advanced algorithms was built.  One unit is currently a part of the Roboworld exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, and a second system is at Questacon in Australia.  The robots have played close to 130,000 games, and continue to be some of the most popular exhibits.

Stop By for a Game

The original prototype made appearances at several other tradeshows around the globe and now lives on at Nuvation Headquarters in Sunnyvale.  Stop by for a game!