Table Tennis Robots

2 years ago

Table Tennis Thoughts

Alois paying with a robot

I am often asked about the relevance of robots for training. It is something I have changed my mind about significantly over the past few years. Growing up in an environment where there was always someone to train with made me oblivious to the multitudes of players that are often stranded with lots of endeavour but no one to hit with. In today’s world, we often don’t have time to travel to a club and it can be hard to find a friend who has the same desire to improve as you do.

Table Tennis is an interactive sport and not having anyone to play with has lead to the increasing popularity of the robot. Table Tennis robots have come a long way from their crude beginnings when you would wait for the sporadic ball that it would spit out at you, sometimes directly at your head, sometimes landing in the region that you intended. Now the better robots can, with reasonable accuracy, place the ball not only in one position but 6 to 8 positions in sequence. You can also save close to 100 drills that you have used, more than enough for any budding trainer.

So why don’t we all go out and get one? Firstly they can be quite costly at around USD$2,000 for a top of the range model. However there are cheaper versions that will do a variety of functions from just being able to fire a ball out at a regular tempo to having some variability with placement and spin. The second limiting factor of training with a robot is that it doesn’t give you a realistic cue as to what type of ball you are getting.  When you are hitting with a partner you are picking up cues to where the ball is coming as well as what type of shot they are doing.  You do this from their backswing, movement to the ball, and their body position at impact.  The robot on the other hand gives you nothing. Thirdly, you need to be mindful that with a robot you are constantly changing your tracking from one ball to another. You hit one ball and instead of watching where that ball goes you switch attention to the robot as it is going to deliver the next ball. It is important for some of your training to watch the ball after you hit it to gain feedback on how well you actually hit the shot.

So why should we train with a ping pong robot? As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a partner then hitting a ball is better than not. You can also get your strokes to a level where you can execute them with efficiency and fluency. By not worrying about your training partner it gives you the opportunity to focus solely on your own stroke. Knowing that if you miss 10 balls in row, your partner isn’t going to get upset at you. In fact the robot will give you nothing (except ball number 11). With the ball coming to the same position with the same speed and spin (from the better robots) you can then focus purely on things like your start and finish position, or how much tension you have in your arm, wrist, fingers, or toes. You can think about your feet position, movement, or whatever you want to work on. A robot is willing to train whenever you are ready, it won’t sledge you, heckle your bad shots, take up your valuable training time, or even need to be fed.

If you are going to take the plunge and buy a robot, I recommend you don’t go too fancy straight away.  There are quite a few that end up like Walking machines or some of those other exercise machines tucked under the bed and never seen again. Do some research online and find something that won’t stretch the budget and looks like it will serve your needs. The features to think about:

So if you can’t find a regular training partner then a robot just might be what you need to start your game on it’s upward path.

Happy hunting and happy hitting.


Thoughts on this blog

Notify me of updates
Howard Watson

Howard Watson Posted 2 years ago

Personally speaking I find the robot helps me to hone my shots better - repetion is best for me to get the right paddle angle and work on my strokes from start to fisnish.  My backhand has really improved as well as my push shots.  My ability to warm up with forehand stroke has improved significantly where I can alternate many different shots.  My positioning for going for the corners in my aim has improved.  Fortunately I have a TT club near me but time to go there is not always available.  So I have another place I can go that has a robot  and I use it as often as I can just to "practice".  

A real person helps to make the game realistic - and keeps me from getting stuck in a robotic rut.  Others have told me I've improved greatly. 


Marv Anderson

Marv Anderson Posted 2 years ago

Hi, Alois,

 

As someone who has no one to train with, my robot is enormously helpful.  I agree with your assessment of the value and limits of robot, but you did overlook one thing.  I can set mine up, and it is a very old and limited one, to give me one heck of an aerobic workout.  My ability to play many games without tiring has improved dramatically while working with my Newgy.


Howard Watson

Howard Watson Posted 2 years ago

Ho ho ha ha  - I know what you mean Mary - my endurance has also increased but lucky me - the Newgy is already set up! a half hour workout on the Newgy is like playing several 11 point games.  

 


Dieter Verhofstadt

Dieter Verhofstadt Posted 2 years ago

If you are playing table tennis, that means you have at least one facility where you can play. You are probably not living in the desert. So I think that you should maximize your time in that facility. Then there is the issue of a partner. If there is no one else present in that facility, you can practice serve. If you have a table at home you can practice serve there. Another thing that you can always practice alone is shadow play or even physical exercises aimed at table tennis specifically, like squatting, wrist exercises ... And you can practice feeling by doing tricks with bat & ball, like rolling over.

If you don't find a partner easily, hire one. Better even, hire a coach. Coaches will observe you while practicing and make adjustments. No robot can do that. Last but not least there is the major argument Alois presents: a robot doesn't give you any clues and you will train yourself to return balls without getting clues, balls which are preset and are too regular at that, all in all a diet that differs fundamentally from actual game play.

In short, I would recommend against robots, unless ... playing a robot is really your main activity and this is what you want to do. But as a way to improve for later human play, I don't think it is a good idea.

I've seen the likes of Samson Dubina promote the robot. Now Samson is a professional table tennis coach and semi-professional player. For him, the robot can be a great tool in addition to all the practice he already gets. Also, Samson already knows how to play. The robot is merely hardening his muscle memory. And I'm afraid that affiliation to vendors may play a role in such promotion, be it consciously or not.

As a meta thought however, I remember a good advice from an expert in my previous activities, who said: study what you like. Those on this forum cannot expect to become elite players anyhow, so anything we do ultimately serves our enjoyment. So, if playing a robot is what you like to do, then by all means play a robot.


Marcin Lonak

Marcin Lonak Posted 2 years ago

Great article Alois.

Do you have a partner who you have to feed? 

I think, Robots have their limitation but in few points they are very helpful. Although you have to be very creative, to keep a robot a helpful thing all the time.

I think, robot users may also get technically good but will get frustrated with any older playing cat, who barely can move, because they never going to win. Why? Cause that old chap will always see the holes and opportunities in their game. The technically good player trained by a robot will not see any clue where and what to attack. How to make that old chap uncomfortable.

but I think they can help a lot. Imagine afte a list match you can program something you struggled a lot in the match. With imagination again you can replay it in your mind and the robot can derive you the ball you missed...of course a good selfanalysis of why you struggled is needed


Ilia Minkin

Ilia Minkin Posted 2 years ago

I think that robots are of limited usefulness. The biggest issue that I find with them is timing. In the ordinary game/practice I watch when and how my opponent strikes the ball and the timing of my movements and shots is heavily anchored to those events. For this reason I feel that random practice with the robot is not good: when the ball appears out of the blue, I feel that my timing is completely lost. However, the robot can help to solidify the stroke mechanics in your memory and improve fitness.


ken none

ken none Posted 2 years ago

I believe this a Both/And topic!

In just coming back to table tennis this past year, after not playing for over 30 years, and seeing all the sport has to offer it has been a real eye-opener for me.  I am very excited of what a robot can offer and the technology that is available is a huge plus.  

I, thankfully, have access to a club but realized quickly the limitations of a hitting partner at my level was tough because I stink.  The possibility of getting a table in our home and a robot to boot was a perfect fit, so I went for it.  Realizing upon getting the robot all the different drills it perfomed, the spin, the speed, and the locations on table the ball could be delivered was major help. With a robot as an aid the people at club began seeing a huge improvement in my game not knowing I had a secret weapon at home. 

The advantage was I wasn't having to spend time chaing ball after ball, not to mention all the balls that came into our area, I can stay on table and focus on hitting.  I also realized that most people don't want to train they want to do match play, which limited my floor time because I would get killed and would have to go sign up and wait for winners.  With a robot I can simulate, not perfectly, hitting scenarios and it would get my feet moving and help with shot placement. Alois made a point that when hitting with a robot you're having to focus soley on the robot and it is hard to track a ball of seeing how it hits on the opponents side, but I have found that you adjust the wait feature this allows you more time between strokes to allow a person to watch the ball track and see how it comes off the table.  If fact, i have used painters tape to make boxes on the oppenents side of the table to be sure I am hitting the locations i want. 

I could go on and on with a robots benefits, but the main limitations is that human element.  I have noticed when not balancing the club and robot I struggle in the area of seeing how the ball is coming off the bat. I had to learn to commit the time needed to see a ball coming off the different rubbers, which is still a head scratcher, but it is getting easier.

So I believe both the club and a robot are great features, so use them if you have the opportunity!!!

 

 


Neville Young

Neville Young Posted 2 years ago

My understanding of how robots fit into the scheme of improving your game, came about over a number of years.

Around 10-12 years ago I had a student at my school try out for the school team. On feeding him balls to play he demonstrated that both his forehand and backhand shots were way above the standard of the other students in his age group. After we finished I asked him where he played. It turned out he didn't play for a club, but his father had been a very good player and had coached him. His father spent most of the year overseas with his job and was only home for a week or so every couple of months. He had bought his son a table tennis robot to practice with. He used the robot almost every day and really developed his forehand and backhand shots. After sending him off to practice with a group of players that I judged were of a similar standard it became apparent that while he had very good shots he had no idea of how to read his opponents movements and shots and could not pick up where they were hitting the ball. The ball didn't hit the same spot on the table like it did with his robot.

This proved to be very disheartening to him and after a month or so gave playing away and I couldn't convince him to keep practicing to get better.

A year or so after that I decided that I would change the type of rubber I used on my backhand from an anti-spin to something more attacking. I liked anti-spin because I was pretty quick on my feet and liked to use the anti-spin simply for placement, so I could attack on my forehand. As I got older and slower it eventually dawned on me that using anti-spin was no longer the advantage it once was. After 25 odd years of using anti-spin this wasn't as easy as I though it would be. I lost a lot of matches in my first two seasons after changing due to my inability to adapt to the new rubber. I was slowly getting better but it was frustratingly slow, my muscle memory had been tuned for shots using anti-spin and they weren't as effective with the new rubber.

Where I play we have access to the venue only on days that we actually play competition. Other venues that were available were small with a maximum of 4 table and filled mostly with people playing socially, who were there to play not practice. At this time a friend offered to lend me his robot. He was no longer able to use it because the room where it was once set up was now occupied by his youngest daughter.

It was a very simple robot (an IPong) but I was able to set it up and practice for about and hour, 3 times a week mainly on my backhand. After a month my backhand hand improved dramatically both against the robot and in games. I found that I could try different methods of playing my shots and gradually work out what was best for me. By turning down the feed rate I could see exactly what happened and where the ball landed before the next ball arrived. The added benefit was that my fitness improved during that time. If you have ever used a robot you will appreciate why that is so.

A couple of years ago I was given a Sitco Table Tennis Robot, because it wouldn't work with the new 40mm balls and been kept in storage for quite a while. After spending 5 min sanding out the exit hole for the balls I got it working. The Sitco was the first type of TT Robot and works on an entirely different principle to modern machines. It might be old and looks quite strange but it is a useful practice robot for grooving your strokes and getting the action into muscle memory so it is repeated automatically when you play.

It has improved my game.


Nicolas Bianchi

Nicolas Bianchi Posted 2 years ago

I agree to most of what Dieter wrote earlier. The most important aspect is that a coach makes live adjustments: he sees instantly if I start lifting my body, if my feet get out of position, if I don’t go low or high enough with my racket at the start or end of my stroke.

But I don’t think robots should only be used if the only goal is to play against a robot. Training serves is ok, but also gets boring when alone. And a robot that sends you always the same balls enables you to get a better feeling for your strokes. Of course, it’s not comparable to matchplay. But If I can’t train with my coach, I’d rather do continuous ball sessions with a robot than with an average partner, who might be unable to distribute the balls correctly on the table for the stroke that has to be trained (I’d be myself one of these average partners).

Once a certain level of accuracy in the strokes is reached, the partner should imo always come before the robot. 


Gunnar Östberg

Gunnar Östberg Posted 1 year ago

My view of using the robot is as in this post


Jerry Leslie

Jerry Leslie Posted 1 year ago

I must have accidentally touched 'send' on my first attempt at commenting. So, here I go again (and I was almost finished!)

We have a Butterfly (Americus Professional) robot. It is quite versatile, as many of you know. One of the things mentioned early on in this blog that applies to this robot, is, that you have no good indication as to where the next ball is going.  This can be overcome, to some extent, by placing a small amount of a bright colored nail polish (or paint) on the tip of the "pointer" of the ball delivery deflector. I have tried to develop the habit of hitting the ball, then looking very briefly at the pointer, then moving as required and focusing on the oncoming ball. I think of this as 1) hitting the ball,  2) looking at the "big picture" (that is, how is the other guy responding to my shot), and then 3) moving and focusing on the ball for my next shot. The "easier to see" nail polish gives you a good indication of about where the ball will be headed.


Van Taggart

Van Taggart Posted 8 months ago

I would not have progressed as quickly as I have without the training that I have received and continue to receive using a TT training robot. Having stated that; I have been studying with Alois and Jeff via Ping Skills on YouTube and am now a Premium Member. The information that they provide can mostly be applied to and used as a training tool with a robot with the exception that you cannot see body movement. Ping Skills and my robot have made me one of the best Table Tennis players at work and now, I am ready to begin competing at a club.


Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario from PingSkills Posted 8 months ago

Great to hear your story Van.



Become a free member to post a comment about this blog.