Ping pong, more competitively known as table tennis, is fast-paced, and players who play it at a high level have lightning-quick reflexes.
Most players use training partners who are close in skill or are more experienced to train, and practice their plays.
If you don’t have a training partner, some robots can stand in for them and even do a whole lot more, like fast and consistent serves and even run drills longer than a human ever could.
But are they worth it as a training tool considering their prices, and are they a good substitute for real trainers?
You’ll find out soon enough from this article which covers everything you need to know about robots that help you play ping pong.
Ping pong robots are worth it if you’ve identified the weaknesses in your game and how you want to improve yourself. A robot won’t magically make you a better player, so consider spending a lot of money only after understanding this.
You can find out what ping pong robots do best, and what they aren’t brilliant at; I also compared how good they are as a training partner when compared to a real person.
What does a Ping Pong Robot Do?
A ping pong robot automatically fires ping pong balls at the person training, letting them practice playing the game if their training partner isn’t present.
A ping pong robot is a three-part system with a mechanism to load and launch the ping pong balls, a control box that the user can adjust to tweak his practice routine and static nets to catch balls going out of play.
The main attraction of these robots is that the person training can practice the plays that they’ve come up with, even if they’re alone.
If configured properly, these robots can even simulate the shots that the player might be facing up next in a match that they’re going to play.
Features of a Modern Ping Pong Robot
When looking for a good ping pong robot, there are a few features that a player shouldn’t overlook.
These decide how each robot is priced and what they offer to a prospective buyer.
The main thing that a ping pong robot does is shoot the balls at you, and depending on the model you pick, it can have multiple arms that randomise the direction the balls come from.
Robots with more ball launching options are the better choice because it offers the player more choice on how they want to run their practice drills.
The balls that the robot launches need to be stored somewhere, and most robots use a bucket that feeds the launching mechanism.
Some more expensive robots have nets that automatically catch the ball that was hit and reload the bucket.
The capacity of the buckets also matters because the player would need to spend more time loading all the balls back in than actually playing if the capacity is low.
Types Of Spin
Ball spin is a pretty important aspect of ping pong, and it affects how the ball behaves in the air and after hitting the table.
So an athlete would need to simulate this with their ping pong robot.
Some models offer multiple spin types, but the lower end models offer only a couple of spin types and sometimes no spin at all.
The athlete should understand how their training drills are structured and select the right robot.
When athletes travel, it’s good to have a ping pong bot with their training drills programmed so that they won’t need to set up the bot again when they reach the venue.
Some robots do offer portability but at the cost of some features.
If someone needs to have a portable ping pong robot with many features, they’d have to look at the higher end of the market.
These are just some of the important features to have on a ping pong robot, but remember to go through the features of the robot that you want before making the purchase.
Advantages of a Ping Pong Robot
Robots make people’s lives easier, and a ping pong robot helps athletes raise their game even if they are alone and don’t have a training partner.
The best thing about having a Ping Pong robot is that it never tires out, unlike a real human.
It can keep going for as long as you want, and as long as you keep the robot fed with enough ping pong balls, it keeps going.
Using the robot to work on a player’s weaker aspect of the game is another advantage because it can deliver the same ball at the same power regardless of how many times the robot launches the ball.
Even the best coach in the world can’t deliver the same ball at the same speed and power, and the robot will help with that.
Another advantage of having a ping pong robot is the amount of control a player offers.
Whatever their level might be, they can adjust for it by tweaking shot power, spin, and launching speed.
These robots are suitable for players at any level.
It can also help athletes work on their stamina and endurance if they set it up to keep launching the balls at a constant pace.
They can integrate training with the ping pong robot into their regular physical training to stay at the top of the game.
The possibilities that a ping pong robot can open up to an aspiring ping pong player is innumerable and can only be felt after using the robot for themselves.
Disadvantages of a Ping Pong Robot
Reading how the opponent shapes up their body for the next strike and predicting where the shot would go is important in ping pong.
If a robot is running a drill, none of this is simulated, so that aspect of the game is largely ignored.
The randomness of a ping pong robot isn’t random, and once someone is used to the machine, they’ll start to notice the pattern in the ‘randomness’.
Only a human can be more random than a robot because of the mistakes that the person can make when hitting the ball or making a serve.
That element of randomness is eliminated in a ping pong robot, so drills might get too old too quickly.
Doing the same techniques over and over again might seem like a good thing to try with a robot, but repetition can bring in bad habits or incorrect techniques in some athletes.
Since no one is nearby to instruct the player, they may make it a part of their playstyle, which can be detrimental to their game.
Ping Pong Robot vs Human Partner
When it comes to practice, athletes should know how to balance working on drills with the robot and playing against a human partner.
Both methods have their own weaknesses, and training with both can cover each other’s weaknesses.
Working with the human partner should take up most of a player’s practice drills because if they have an experienced coach or partner, they can get the right guidance on what to do and what not to do.
The player can then apply what they’ve learnt by running practice drills on the robot to fix their weaknesses.
The debate of whether the human or the machine is better has been going on for decades, but the fact is that machines can do things humans can’t, and humans can’t do what machines can’t.
At the moment, there is a stalemate, so working with both a robot and a human is recommended.
How Much Does a Ping Pong Robot Cost?
Ping pong robots can start from around $250 for the basic models that just launch balls from a bucket to ones that go for $1,500 with multiple arms and a ball net to catch balls that have been hit to reload the machine automatically.
The features decide the price, really, with fully kitted robots going up to over $2,000 in some cases.
The lower end doesn’t have a lot in ways of programming the systems, but the higher end ones let players set their own drills and even pick randomly from the drills that they programmed to keep the athlete on their feet.
So, making sure what the player’s requirements are and how long they have access to a human trainer figure heavily when they decide to get a ping pong robot.
If the players are short on funds, Craigslist or eBay are a few other places where they can get used ping pong bots for cheaper prices.
Contemporary Ping Pong Robot Companies
The average ping pong player is spoilt for choice when it comes to making robots that they can get on the market.
Newgy is a go-to company that has been making these robots since 1988 and are pretty popular in the US.
Most of their models sell under the $1,000 mark, which is the sweet spot for these robots when considering all the features available.
iPong is another industry veteran with pretty competitive bots like the iPong Trainer Motion.
iPong offers more in the budget range, at around $200, so its a great choice for beginners.
Butterfly is also a great maker of ping pong robots sold under the brand name Amicus.
Players can control their bots with a smartphone which is a bonus.
Can a Ping Pong Robot Actually Help You Improve?
Thanks to the ability to program practice drills to a ping pong robot, it has proven useful for any player from beginner to professional to keep them on their A-game.
Since the robots can repeat the same action however long the player wants to, they can use the robot to work on aspects of the game they are weaker at.
The player can also train his footwork by programming the robot with drills that use the breadth of the table.
The speed at robot can launch the balls is very high, so its a great way to practice quick rallies, and if slowed down, it can simulate a regular rally pretty easily.
All of it comes down to how the player uses the robot and will only work if they have understood the weaker aspects of their game.
Remember that a robot is just a tool and not a magic trick, and the player still has to put in their effort to improve.
Ping pong robots clear that path of improvement for a player to get better.
What’s Next For Ping Pong Robots?
At CES 2018, a ping pong playing robot called Forpheus was unveiled by Omron.
The robot they showed off wasn’t the launcher type available right now.
It had an arm that carried a bat that could do a really good rally with a human.
It responds to the ball’s movement and plays ping pong just like a human.
If robots like this go mainstream, the training methods that ping pong players use now can be evolved to a higher level than ever before.
Omron did this as proof of concept, but they are still adding new technologies to this bot to develop its playing style.
It could simulate any play style, add spins to serves and shots, and was just a taste into what the future could bring.
Time will tell how popular these robots will be, and there are a lot of tech enthusiasts who want this to succeed.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a ping pong robot cost?
Some ping pong robots are available for around $200, but those are more ball launchers than robots.
At the $500 to $1000 price range, the robots are actual robots and can be programmed with practice drills.
How do you make a ping pong robot?
There are a few ways to DIY and make a ping pong robot yourself; all you need is a motor, a small plastic bucket, and a USB power bank.
Be aware that the effort required to make a ping pong robot that you can adjust for spin and speed is not worth it, and getting one from your nearest sports store is always better.
How light is the ping pong ball?
A typical ping pong ball approved for tournaments weighs 2.7 grams (0.095oz).
The number isn’t fixed, though, and there is a tolerance of 0.1 grams both ways.