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World's best Dad builds air hockey robot from PS3 camera and 3D printer

Finally, an air hockey opponent who won't complain of fatigue or that their fingers hurt after being smashed between the puck and the mallet. Spanish hacker Jose Julio built a smart air hockey table out of 3D printer parts and a PlayStation 3 camera.

"My daughter loves the air hockey game and I love robotics so one day an idea [was] born in my mind. Can I construct?" Julio wrote in a translated blog post.

"It seemed very complicated and with many unresolved questions (puck detection??, robot speed??)," he said. "But that is also part of the fun."

With a design in mind, Julio constructed his own air hockey table, complete with two PC fans providing the necessary cushions of air. But anyone with a couple of quarters and the drive to win can find a fully functioning game table. Julio took the sport a step further.

Using the family's RepRap 3D printer, Julio produced his own brackets, puck, and paddle, then dismantled the machine and scoured for parts including the NEMA17 stepper motors, drivers, belts, bearings, and rods to build the robot.

"After several design iterations of the pieces, and some material changes to minimize the weight and inertia (and thus increase the accelerations of the robot I got a fairly operational design," Julio said.

The real challenge, though, was teaching the robot to play air hockey like a champ. Using the PS3 EYE camera, Julio developed the vision system, which determines where the puck is and its expected trajectory, then sends the robot to block it.

Julio sees so much more potential for his air hockey game, including robot-versus-robot competitions.

"Now the robot could easily beat a child. An adult with some experience can still [defeat] the robot, but I am sure that with some more small improvements it is going to be really hard to beat," Julio wrote in his blog.

Check out the Air Hockey Robot in action in the video above.

Constructing an air hockey table is by no means Julio's first dabbling in robotics. Last Autumn, the hacker dad completed his first robot designed and printed entirely with a 3D printer. Dubbed B-ROBOT, the miniature fellow can be controlled by a mobile device via Wi-Fi or on its own with sonar to detect obstacles.

And while Julio certainly earns a place in the top ranks of "World's Best Dad," he has some competition from Mike Mika, who last March hacked the classic Nintendo Donkey Kong title to swap Mario's hero for Pauline's heroine—just to make his daughter happy.