The lengths to which Shane Wighton will go to avoid having to practice to get better at basketball are staggering. The engineer has created yet another high-tech basketball hoop that tracks the motion of the ball and, this time, travels at 161 km/h across a room to to ensure it always goes through the hoop.
We’ve been covering this unusual arms race for a few years now, as Wighton continues to try to one-up himself with more complex ways to put a ball through a hoop. It started with a peculiarly curved backboard designed with countless computer simulations that deflected any shot into the hoop, but that was eventually upgraded to a moving backboard that could track the trajectory of the ball and angle the board to ensure the ball always went through the hoop. Both solutions required players to actually hit the backboard, however, which led Wighton to then create a basketball hoop that could reposition itself on a wall to accommodate particularly bad shots. But what if someone with hoop dreams couldn’t even reliably hit a wall?
Wighton’s latest creation is an equal mix of impressive and terrifying, as it involves a custom-built lightweight basketball hoop made of aluminium, foam, and fibre glass that can fly around a room in 3D space thanks to a complex pulley system powered by six electric motors with 50 horsepower in total.
As with many of Wighton’s previous builds, this absurd creation required considerable levels of engineering to succeed, including everything from a custom-designed brake system that could stop all six motors in a heartbeat should something go wrong, to a foam basketball that was carved out on a CNC machine, which allowed spherical markers to be embedded all over it.
Previously, Wighton used a Microsoft Kinect to visually track the trajectory of every shot, but this time he switched to a series of OptiTrack motion capture cameras (which he had on hand from his never-miss auto-aiming bow) which track both the position and orientation of the backboard in 3D space. They also track the ball as well, with 100 times more accuracy.
Watching the backboard in action when all of the bugs and kinks are finally all worked out is astonishing, and Wighton points out that the system doesn’t even take full advantage of all the power the six electric motors offer. The backboard could easily hit speeds of up to 250MPH as it repositions itself to intercept a basketball in flight, but that would also result in the pulley system it relies on being torn from the wall in the process. As it stands, a player doesn’t want to find themselves between the backboard and the ball at any point, as it’s all but guaranteed they’ll find themselves benched and on the injured list for quite a while.