Engineering Projects: University of Waterloo | MAKO Design + Invent

Hockey Robotics – University of Waterloo Megatronics

One piece composite hockey sticks are continuing to get lighter with attention being focused on both durability and performance. Most major brands of elite hockey sticks are subjected to at least some basic testing by mechanical means as well as player testing. The challenge with player testing is that the performance data collected is influenced by the variation in the tester’s shooting as well as the performance of the stick. As a result, it becomes difficult to isolate key performance parameters such as shot speed resulting from the stick design as opposed to the quality of the shot the player actually took. The amount of time required for a player to take a large volume of shots and player fatigue impact the testing results. There is still a key role for player testing in stick development in terms of ensuring appropriate feel from the stick, but automated testing can be more consistent for producing quantitative data for the development process and ongoing R&D.

Much of the mechanical testing performed on sticks has been deflection testing – basically seeing how much the stick will bend when subjected to specific loads. This has been performed by looking at both maximum loads and also by cycling the loading to examine the longer term bending performance. More recently, some hockey sticks have begun to be subjected to robotic testing to try to simulate the shooting performance of the sticks. Many of these shooting robots only have a single arm with the stick attached to the arm at two fixed locations resulting in the stick is swinging like a pendulum. While some insight into the stick performance can be gained with this basic testing, this type of simulation does not truly mimic the shooting mechanics of a human hockey player.

Professor John McPhee from University of Waterloo and a group of his students performed extensive research instrumenting players with sensors and using high speed cameras to gain an understanding of the mechanics involved in taking a slap shot in order to develop a shooting robot that accurately represented a human slap shot. The result of this work was the SlapShot XT, which employs a multi-bar mechanism to transfer power from an electrical motor through two independent arms and wrists to the stick. The unique wrist design allows the stick to bend not only between the ice and lower wrist, but also between wrists, as if it were being used by an elite player. Hockey Robotics Inc. spun off from this project to provide third party stick testing services to manufacturers. The SlapShot XT offers unique capabilities in terms of its shooting mechanics, repeatability, method of stick attachment and high puck speeds (up to 120 MPH).

In response to the increased demand for higher fidelity testing of hockey sticks, Kevin Matsui has recently joined Hockey Robotics to manage the day to day operations. He has a long history in advanced engineering analysis and consulting services. Kevin explains his motivation for becoming involved with Hockey Robotics, “I have known Professor McPhee for a number of years and he has been involved with many interesting sports engineering projects, but the impressive performance of the SlapShot XT robot has always captured my interest because of its combination of advanced engineering and accurate hockey simulation. So, needless to say when the opportunity presented itself due to increased demand at Hockey Robotics I jumped at the chance to join the Hockey Robotics team.”

As with most areas of technology, the initial progress merely whets the appetite for further advancements. Basic shooting robots have accelerated the demand for higher shots speeds representative of top professional players and more realistic shooting motion. The SlapShot XT is capable of sustained shooting of pucks at speeds well in excess of 100 mph. It can shoot hundreds of pucks per hour in a self-feeding, closed system. The pucks that are shot by the robot are captured and transferred on a conveyor belt to a robot that places the puck in the specific spot to be struck by the stick. The precise adjustability of the SlapShot XT allows for repetitive testing of hockey sticks that feature different lies, lengths and grip locations allowing for the comparison of performance and durability of different designs, construction and materials to name just a few variations. Hockey Robotics uses statistical analysis on the data recorded by the system to deliver scientific conclusions and recommendations that the hockey brands can use in developing their various stick models.

With the goal of helping to develop better performing hockey sticks, Hockey Robotics provides an important assist with its unique technology. Check out www.hockeyrobotics.com for more details.

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