12-04 controllable bowling ball

[Image above] How can you achieve the perfect strike in bowling? You could practice—or you could design a controllable ball! Credit: Mark Rober, YouTube


I have never been very good at ball-based sports. Volleyball, basketball, tennis—none are really my forte.

Bowling, though, is an exception. I’m no expert, but I can proudly accomplish a game without going in the gutter once (and sometimes even land a few spares and strikes!).

Getting the right spin on the ball is key to landing a perfect strike. But unfortunately, once that ball leaves your hand, you can do nothing but hope it goes where you aimed.

Unless you have Mark Rober’s bowling ball.

You may remember Rober, a former NASA engineer turned YouTube star, from his other videos covered on CTT, including the world’s largest lemon battery and a 7-foot-long water gun. Rober builds a lot of the devices seen in the videos (he is a former NASA engineer, after all). But in today’s video featuring a controllable bowling ball, Rober traveled to London to get help from a special guest—James Bruton.

“What you should know about James aside from the fact that he’s a mechanical, electrical engineer genius is he used to be a toy designer,” Rober says in the video. He explains Bruton has various clever designs in his portfolio, including real-life Iron Man and Hulkbuster suits, but one design in particular—a controllable BB-8 from Star Wars—caught Rober’s eye as a potential design for a controllable bowling ball.

Most of Rober’s video focuses on them testing the ball at a bowling alley rather than the science behind the design. Lucky for us, Bruton is also a YouTuber, and he uploaded his own video explaining in detail how the bowling ball works!

“The main principle here is that we’ve got an axis which it [the ball] rolls on in one direction, and a pendulum which swings side to side to steer it, just like the BB-8 that I built,” Bruton explains in his video. He goes on to discuss specific parts that he used in the construction (for example, MPu-6050 and Adafruit BNO055 Breakout inertial measurement units to measure the ball’s specific force, angular rate, and orientation), and he describes the pendulum science that causes the ball to move.

Before Rober arrived in London, Bruton did his own testing at the alley and learned something important. “Unfortunately, bowling balls aren’t that strong when you hollow them out,” he says after the original ball broke upon hitting bowling pins. Rober had more bowling balls made from other materials until they found a material that worked.

Bruton was right to fear hitting pins with his original design. Credit: James Bruton, YouTube

For more information on the design and how they controlled the ball by leaning side to side (hint: wearable motion sensor), check out the videos below.

And if you’re tempted to try out for a professional bowling league using this ball, remember that it is cheating—there’s zero chance it would be approved for league play. But if you’re enjoying a night out with friends and want to show off your Jedi Force tricks…Bruton may let you borrow the ball!

(Want to see more of Bruton’s designs? Bruton has a ton of other videos on his channel, including a skateboard made from 3D-printed carbon fiber!)

Credit: Mark Rober, YouTube

Credit: James Bruton, YouTube

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