In many sports, mastery of the ball is crucial to success. But what happens if the ball disobeys the laws of physics? Researchers at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory and the University of Tokyo are working on just such a device: HoverBall.
HoverBall is a 90-millimeter-wide quadcopter enclosed in a cage a bit bigger than a bocce ball. It is designed to hang in the air, change location and modify its behavior during play. The 10-gram, battery-powered device can fly for five minutes at a time, and although the most recent version relies on a remote control to guide its four rotors, future iterations might be programmed to operate autonomously. HoverBall’s surprise midair maneuvers introduce a new level of spontaneity to game play via “artificial physical laws” that follow “imaginary dynamics,” the researchers said in a study they presented earlier this year at the Augmented Human Conference in Kobe, Japan.
Beyond introducing erratic flight, the Sony team would like the ball to compensate for differences in player abilities and therefore make games more inclusive for children, the elderly and people with physical disabilities, according to Jun Rekimoto, Sony CSL deputy director.
HoverBall is a long way from store shelves, though. The quadcopter needs plenty of air intake to fly, which is why it currently has an open cage, but that design limits its durability and potential for use in contact sports. The researchers are considering options for a rugged version, including additional powerful rotors that could handle a heavier, more solid ball with a bigger battery and tougher surface.