Magic pool table

If you play pool, you`ll probably be familiar with that sinking feeling you get when you miss a pot, despite believing you`d lined up the perfect shot. But all that could change with the help of an interactive pool table and a virtual coach called James.

The table, invented by Lars Bo Larsen and his team at Aalborg University in Denmark, monitors the ball positions with a camera and uses the bright point from a moving laser beam to suggest which shots to play. It also shows you where you`ve gone wrong after you flunk a shot. The table is hooked up to a computer that displays a headshot of James- your computer-generated coach.

The computer controls mirrors that aim the laser, which is inside a unit mounted on the ceiling above the table, explained Larsen earlier this week at the International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces in Pittsburgh. In a coaching session, players are told to place the balls in particular spots, indicated by laser-drawn circles, for each practice shot they play. The beam moves quickly enough to create the illusion of sketching circles for the balls` initial positions and lines for the path they should follow.

The computerised coach gives basic pool training, and the laser traces outlines for practice exercises that steer you from simple control of the cue ball all the way up to elaborate moves where the cue ball bounces off three cushions.

After a shot, the laser outlines the ball`s trajectory and compares it with the one you were aiming for, while James, the ever-sympathetic coach, rates your game. For the moment, he`s not programmed to make cruel wisecracks.

“People are fond of James and don`t find it unnatural to speak to him,” says Larsen. Players can ask James for an action replay or extra help on where to aim the cue ball.

Pool pros aren`t impressed, though. They point out that no matter how well the system analyses the path of the shot, some people just can`t be helped because their stance is all wrong.

Author: Eugenie Samuel

New Scientist issue 2nd November 2002

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