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National Runner Up

Behind The Game

This work provides a well-balanced inter-personal sports game between remote and local players. This enables to overcome remote player's disadvantages without compromising the user's experience.

  • left Interface for a remote player right Machine to play against a physical player

  • A summary of the developed system, its outline, and how it works.

    A summary of the developed system, its outline, and how it works.

  • left: System dynamically changes the assistance rate middle: context recognition and prediction.

  • Sketch for representing our initial concept.

  • Small version machine for development at home.

  • virtual environment for testing the effectiveness of developed methods.

What it does

Behind The Game is a system for achieving a well-balanced inter-personal sports game between remote and local players. It overcomes remote player's disadvantages caused by a time lag without compromising the user's subjective experience.

Your inspiration

Physical sports play an important role in our daily lives. However, it is challenging to play inter-personal sports remotely. One of the problems is the time lag. The time lag decreases the reaction speed and accuracy of action of the remote player. The disadvantage of the remote can be improved with automation. However, a naive approach that does not rely on the user's intention may also compromise the player's experience, i.e., the player no longer feels that they are playing the game by themselves. To tackle this challenge, this project started to develop a system that would both improve performance and provide a good experience.

How it works

We implement a system that achieves to play air hockey remotely as a testbed for our assistance approach. Our system includes a physical machine that controls the striker and a web application interface that enables control of the striker from a remote. Our system allows a remote player to play against a physical opponent from anywhere through a web browser. The application displays the live video stream of the table surface. The user can control the striker with GUI. We divided the game into two main contexts: defense and offense, from the observation. We designed the assistance based on the contexts by predicting the puck's trajectory in real time. Our system assists the player by instantaneously correcting the lateral position of the striker. With this assistance, the remote player exhibits an improved performance without compromising their feeling that they control the striker, and both players can experience the excitement of the game.

Design process

The development started around March 2020, and soon after, the covid-19 made it difficult for us to get together physically to work on the project. Therefore, the first development itself was done remotely from each member's home. We investigated the feasibility of the system and the actual delay of moving the motors remotely with a simple prototype. For the physical machine that controls the striker, we implemented a small version that we could run at home and check the mechanism and its movement. We also implement a virtual environment and use it to verify developed control methods. After some progress was made, we got together periodically to integrate our developments and improve the system. At that time, we developed the system based on the size of a normal air hockey table and sophisticated the control method, mechanism, assist method, etc. For example, we explored ways of assisting the player using haptic feedback, although we have not yet been able to completely integrate them into our system. After a lot of trial and error, we finally reached a performance where we could play and enjoy the physical game remotely.

How it is different

Teleoperation and telerobotics have a long history, beginning with the master-slave manipulators developed by Goertz in 1950s and supervisory control proposed Ferrel and Sheridan in 1960s. Today, various methods have been used to perform physical tasks remotely by leveraging automated machine advantages, such as collision avoidance in mobile robots and cancellation of the relative motion between surgical instruments and a beating heart. While the main goal of previous work was to improve performance, our research focuses on not only performance improvement but also the user's sense of control as an important factor in achieving a satisfying experience playing sports games remotely.

Future plans

The performance of the current system depends on the empirical parameter tuning of the designer and the individual differences of the players. The system will be improved by leveraging a machine learning-based approach to determine optimal parameters and to be adaptive to the individual. Moreover, in addition to air hockey, we would like to work on applications to other sports based on similar concepts, such as table tennis. In the future, we would like to create opportunities for a wide range of people to experience our developed system. We believe that this will help to spread our concept and create a new culture of remote sports.


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