Sensors Enable Table to Keep Score

A new table tennis net with special vibration-detecting nanosensors is able to keep track of players' scores during a match automatically.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 22, 2015

Three years ago, I took up table tennis at my son's prodding. I've since been playing with him at home, with friends at my wife's church and at the East North Port Table Tennis Club. So I was intrigued when I received an e-mail from Stiga, a global provider of tables, paddles and other equipment, touting a new device that uses sensors to turn "the table tennis table playing surface into a nano-vibration detection field, automatically keeping score so players can focus on the game."

This is not, strictly speaking, an Internet of Things product. It doesn't connect to the Internet, though the company could potentially add such a feature to allow league results to be updated automatically. But it is a good example of a dumb product (a table) that has been made smarter through sensors that detect changes in the environment.

I requested and received an evaluation unit from Stiga. The unit is simple to install. You replace your net with a new net containing a sensor, then screw two sensors to the underneath side of the table, in the center of each side. The sensors and net have wires that plug into a device attached to the net. Another wire attaches to a control unit that can be mounted on the edge of the table. The system is powered by four triple-A batteries.

When you press the control panel's On button, you choose to play to either 11 or 21. Both scores (one is orange, the other blue) show zero and start blinking. When the first player serves, the sensor detects the bounce on each side of the table and subsequent bounces from the ball being returned. If no bounce is detected on one side, the point is awarded to the player who last hit the ball on the table (on the correct side, of course). The system then announces the score.

The system gives you a few seconds to prepare for the next point, after which the score of the person serving blinks, indicating the system is ready for the next point. You can adjust the interval between points.

The SensorScore system, as Stiga calls it, works remarkably well. It even detects balls that nick the edge of the table. What I like most about it is that it detects any ball that hits the net on a serve and calls out that the ball touched the net, so the server can serve again. (As in tennis, any ball that hits the net and lands in is a "let," and the server must serve again.) Often, players don't hear the ball hit the net in a noisy club, and there can be disagreements over whether or not the ball actually clipped the tape. The SensorScore system would end such controversies.

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