Benjamin Meeder set out to improve his table tennis game. He ended up with a senior championship at the 2009 North Museum Science & Engineering Fair.
"I'm really, really excited," the 18-year-old Manheim Township High School senior said. "I've been working for this since third grade."
In the past, Meeder said, he had great projects, like an experimental hovercraft. But he didn't have the physics background to go along with the projects.
So Meeder decided a project built around a table tennis robot was the way to go.
He got the idea when he played table tennis at a local club two years ago. It had a robot designed to help him practice where to place the ball.
"I went on the Internet to buy one, and they were $500 to $2,000. That was ridiculous," Meeder said.
Meeder decided to try to make one that was cheaper and "cooler" so he could sell them cheaper than the competition.
He began working on the project last year, but his first plans didn't call for a computer-controlled robot.
Meeder added that component - an Atmel AT Mega 68 MCU - to this year's science fair project, which is titled "Table Tennis Robot: Can a Programmable MCU Utilize Physics to Hit a Specific Location?"
He used the MCU - a microcontroller like a cell phone chip - to control the speed of the motor on the robot and put a spin on the ball, he said.
"What is exciting and unpredictable is the spin on the ball," Meeder said.
He also used an H-bridge, a type of electronic circuit commonly used in robotics, to change the direction of the motor and track positions to hit specific locations on the table.
Meeder, who plans to become a mechanical engineer, said he wants to continue researching and improving his product so he can take it to a manufacturer and then market it.
In the meantime, Meeder is "thrilled" to go to the 2009 Intel Engineering & Science Fair in Reno, Nev., in May. "I'm totally excited," he said.