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Maybe This Is How We’ll Play Ping Pong in 150 Years

"Beat Match," a project by designer David Rinman, is an interactive ping pong table that responds to the game. Photo: David Rinman

Ping pong is thought to have originated in the 1880s, when rich Brits adopted it as a boozy after-dinner diversion. Instead of a net, they used a row of books. They used books for paddles, too, volleying golf balls or champagne corks back and forth with their compatriots (people bought more books than they could ever possibly read back then, too). It was a crude version of the game we play today, with the familiar green tables and spongey paddles. But what will ping pong look like another 150 years hence? Maybe something like this.

Beat Match, David Rinman’s graduation project at the Forsbergs School of Design & Advertising in Stockholm, is an interactive surface that transforms table tennis into a collaborative audiovisual extravaganza. With every bounce of the ball, the table takes on a new pattern–the geometries, supplied by an overhead projector, snap into place perfectly in-step with the action. But it’s not just the visuals that reflect the game play. The ball controls the soundtrack, too, with sensors triggering pre-cut snippets of electronic tracks every time it hits. A leisurely volley might produce a stilted mix. Get in the groove, though, and the music will follow.

It’s certainly not your aunt’s dusty ping pong table. And it’s not supposed to be, either. With Beat Match, Rinman wasn’t trying to come up with a futuristic take on the game so much as a new collaborative experience altogether–a novel way of creating and experiencing sound and image with a partner. As a drummer, Rinman has a keen sensitivity to rhythm, and going into the project he knew he wanted to create something that built upon the aural patterns already existing all around us. He says, “I experimented with different formats until I found one that almost everyone is familiar with: ping pong.”

So the goal isn’t to send the ball whizzing past your partner so much much as keeping a smooth and steady volley–and thus a smooth and steady beat–going for as long as possible. Which is nice, I’m sure, but nowhere near as satisfying as a well-executed slam. And yet I don’t think Rinman’s concept is totally incompatible with good old competitive ping pong. With more sophisticated audio processing, you could come up with tracks that worked at slower speeds, too–a multilayered electronic symphony that seamlessly ebbed and flowed with the intensity of the game. Throw a Kinect above the table with the projector and you could dynamically change the visuals based not just on when the ball hit but where it hit, too, a sort of live visualization of the gameplay. These sorts of whiz-bang enhancements might be overkill for what is already a time-tested basement pastime. But for a ping pong bar circa year 2300, they might be just the ticket.

[WIRED] [MocoLoco]
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