WATERLOO—A group of University of Waterloo engineering students are set to uncover the mystery behind the constant breaking of composite hockey sticks after developing a robot that mimics a slap-shot.
The team at Hockey Robotics, a newly created business made up of five mechanical and mechatronics engineering students has developed the SlapshotXT, a robot based on the same testing technologies golf club designers have been using for years.
In golf, clubs are loaded into the arm of a robot that mimics a golf swing. The SlapshotXT has two arms in order to accurately copy the slapshot.
The project started five years ago when Waterloo engineering professor John McPhee realized the potential of having a robot test hockey sticks the same way golf manufacturers test clubs.
“Professor McPhee realized there was a pretty significant issue with stick breakage, especially surrounding these new composite sticks four or five years ago,” says Jean-Samuel Rancourt, a Waterloo mechanical engineering student and the business brains of the operation. “He had worked with golf companies before and thought ‘why don’t stick makers use the same technology?’”
But golf club testing robots have a single-arm mechanism, so the challenge was designing a prototype with a two-arm design to truly simulate a slap-shot.
Once the team had secured $100,000 in funding from private and federal sources, the resulting prototype was a robot that uses a gear, sprocket and belt system to generate enough power to shoot a puck at 110 miles per hour.
The robot’s advanced electronics and integrated software provide data on a stick’s performance, resistance to fatigue and vibration response.
“The robot has topped out at 60 miles per hour right now, but it’s because the battery requires 240 volts, and we’ve only been able to test with 120 volts,” says Rancourt. “Our goal is to eventually break the NHL record.”
The NHL’s current hardest shot record is 105.9 miles per hour, owned by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara at this year’s NHL All-Star game.
Initial testing involved procedures similar to those used by video games companies. The team used OptiTrak technology to create 3D images and gathered data that would explain necessary movements, how energy was being dispersed, and the amount of torque the mechanism would need to make testing as realistic as possible.
Using the OptiTrak motion capture cameras, participants are outfitted with motion markers that are captured by the system’s cameras to replicate realistic human movement.
Today’s hockey sticks are made of composite materials like graphite, fiber glass and Kevlar that are wrapped together and held together with a resin. Most sticks have about 15 layers of composite material, but that number is adjusted to achieve different stiffnesses.
The company is also in the midst of developing what they’ve called a Stick Impacter, which will be used to replicate surface damage that hockey sticks accumulate during game-play. The impacting machine will be able to compare the true durability of hockey stick materials, design and construction.
“We wanted to simulate the same kind of wear a stick goes through in a game,” says Rancourt. “That means testing durability to slashes and impact on the blade from a shot.”
Hockey Robotics plans to commercialize its research in July by charging the world’s 40 or so stick makers for the data collected through testing.
“We will be able to take a new stick from a company and tell them what kind of damage the stick can take before it breaks and how much torque the stick is generating using the robot,” says Rancourt.