Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

12.2.2021 Mixing virtual and physical pool - Fairfax Tech Talk Column 237


I am a bit of a fan of pool – the cue sport rather than the water. I grew up in a household where games of pool with my family were a regular occurrence – be they rivalries with siblings or trying to beat Dad or even the all-in version of Kelly Pool. I didn’t realise at the time but skills gained during my formative years were very handy when I ended up at University and found pool competitions around the Uni precinct. One of the greatest pleasures to be derived from cue sports is the social interaction with your playing partners and opponents. I am sure that view would be supported by the majority of the 200 million people who regularly play cue sports across the world, but there are a small group of players who are very frustrated at the moment.

The professional players.

Current travel restrictions curtail many normal activities and competitions and championships based around a pool table and some coloured spheres is just one casualty of COVID-19.

But that is about to change.

The World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) has partnered with an Australian company, CUED, to produce the CUED Blackbox. In conjunction with another Aussie company, Foresense Technologies, the solution will allow players to compete against each other while being on separate pool tables.

Sound intriguing? I thought so too.

A player at one end has their ‘turn’ and continues to play as per normal while they are continuing to pot balls or, in billiards, score points. Once the turn is complete, the Blackbox automatically scans the table and, in real time, projects an image onto a table in any other part of the world with the location of the balls. In the first prototypes, a referee would then place the balls in the appropriate locations on the table (adding a small delay) and that player is then able to complete their turn.

When the balls are placed in the correct location at the remote end, the Blackbox will confirm the balls are placed correctly therefore eliminating any potential accidental (or deliberate) misplacement of the balls by the referee.

Stage 1 of the solution will involve a human but the second stage will involve a robotic addition. In much the same way as the ten pins in a bowling alley are replaced by robotic helpers, the balls will be placed in the correct position by robotic arms. This reduces the delay between turns but also increases the accuracy. It almost goes without saying that video feeds will also allow players to watch the action live as it occurs.

At this stage the development is purely focused on the ability to conduct competitions but I am sure the developers of the technology have a grander plan. There are 12,000 pool rooms in the US alone. I can imagine some progressive establishments adding this technology to multiple venues and then advertising to play against your mates – wherever they are! I know I would be attracted to playing a few games against friends in Brisbane or Boston – and everywhere in between. We didn’t know we needed this solution just a year ago but as the world changes rapidly, we are seeing technology provide innovative solutions. It may not seem like a critical issue for social pool players, but if you were not able to continue your profession, the solution would be a godsend. More importantly, we pride ourselves on Aussie ingenuity but it is great to see world organisations also recognise the innovative ability that our companies can provide.

Tell me if you prefer snooker, pool or billiards at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson