University of Waterloo startup invents hockey stick-swinging robot to improve sport’s technology

A professor and his team of students at the University of Waterloo have invented a hockey stick-swinging robot that they believe may be the answer to many hockey players’ greatest frustration: snapping hockey sticks during games.

The two-handed contraption is capable of holding a hockey stick and repeatedly unleash slapshots up to of 180 kilometres per hour (beating the world record for fastest human slapshot). This technology will allow for more in-depth research into how different designs, construction techniques, or materials could potentially improve the durability of the sticks.

“You know all about sticks breaking, it’s a big problem,” said Prof. John McPhee, the chief scientist behind the a new startup called Hockey Robotics, in a Canadian Press article by Michael Oliveira. “At the high levels it’s a performance issue, at the amateur levels it’s a major cost problem for young hockey players, who are breaking their sticks and have to invest another $100 to $200 in a new stick.”

The startup will officially launch in July when it will begin offering its services testing hockey sticks. John got the idea for the puck-smacking robot about five years ago while researching golf technology, according to the article:

“I thought, ‘Well how hard can that be?’ It turns out to be quite a bit harder than making a golf robot, because a golf robot only needs one arm, it only needs to hold a club at one spot,” McPhee explained. “With a hockey robot, you have to hold a stick in two places and the stick has to be able to bend significantly between those two locations.”

“The robot is highly variable, so it’s got many degrees of freedom,” said student Jean-Samuel Rancourt, who is leading business development for the company. “The angles of the wrists, the angles of the arms, how the stick goes . . . we can change those variables and see what happens if the hands are two inches lower, or what happens if the stick has a different flex.”

Hockey Robotics has signed a partnership agreement Quebec stick maker Sherbrook SBK Hockey, as well as a partnership with Toronto-based Integran Technologies.

John imagines the robot could be used as a coaching tool as well. “The robot was designed based on a player’s swing, so you can see how we might be able to go the other way and use the robot to try out different swing profiles and train the player,” he said. “That, and we think we should be able to come up with a stick that’s individually suited to a player, just like we do in golf today.”