A Former NASA Engineer and an Ex-Toy Designer Made a Steerable Bowling Ball That Always Gets Strikes

By Andrew Liszewski on at

Mark Rober, a former NASA JPL engineer, recently teamed up with James Bruton, an ex-toy designer and all-around expert hacker, to become two of the world’s most talented bowlers. But instead of spending years practising and honing their skills, they turned to science and engineering to cleverly hack a bowling ball to go wherever they steered it.

After slicing a bowling ball in half, Rober discovered that inside it was asymmetrically weighted which is what allows professional bowlers to magically curve their throws down the lane by putting spin on the ball. Rober and Bruton took this idea one step further and upgraded their bowling ball with an asymmetrical weight inside that could be remotely shifted from side to side.

The bowling ball’s guts were replaced with an electronic and mechanical mechanism that’s similar to what you’ll find inside the many self-balancing Star Wars BB-8 toys, but with one important additional feature: a pivoting pendulum weight. The weight shifts from side to side in response to the bowler’s movements which are detected by a wearable motion sensor, and that in turn causes the ball to dramatically change directions, even multiple times, as it rolls down a bowling lane.

Is it cheating? Yes, of course it is, there’s zero chance this ball would be approved for professional or league play, and presumably with its innards replaced it weighs much less than a regulation ball does anyways. But it’s not like Rober and Bruton immediately entered competitions once their hacked ball was perfected and tried to scam their way to prize money. It’s a hack for hack’s sake, to see if it was even possible. It just took a couple of engineering wizards to make it happen.

Featured image: James Bruton (YouTube)

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