Rugby virtuoso robot gets his kicks

16:00, Sep 29 2011
PUTTING THE BOOT IN: Massey University senior lecturer Rory Flemmer with the rugby ball-kicking robot.
PUTTING THE BOOT IN: Massey University senior lecturer Rory Flemmer with the rugby ball-kicking robot.

If Dan Carter wants to brush up on his drop kicks ahead of the Rugby World Cup knockout stages, Woderwick the robot is ready to give him a few pointers.

In fact, by the time Woderwick gets to Auckland for a goal-kicking competition against former All Blacks super-boot Andrew Mehrtens next month, he will be programmed with the techniques and quirky mannerisms of the world's best sharp-shooters – such as Jonny Wilkinson and Quade Cooper – in addition to his arguably superior targeting system.

Right now, the metal magician of the oval ball is honing his place-kicking skills at Massey University in Palmerston North, under the watchful eye of the robotics team that spent the last three months assembling him.

Team leader Dr Rory Flemmer said Woderwick did his own thinking before taking a shot at goal.

A camera and targeting system in his head identifies the goal posts. When his eyes glow brightly, it means he has locked on. His sensors then calculate wind direction and speed, then send the appropriate adjustments to his feet before his compressed air-powered right boot gives the ball an almighty thump.

The data take about 1/70,000th of a second to journey through his $10,000 worth of hardware.

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"It's a bit better than dropping grass in the air," Dr Flemmer said, referring to the common goalkicking trick for checking the wind.

He is not the only machine that will be trying to show Mehrts up at his own game. Canterbury University and a team from Massey's Albany campus are also putting together goal-kicking robots for the shootout on October 10.

Woderwick is still a work in progress. Dr Flemmer said he will be fully animatronic in a few days and a pair of hands will be attached, giving him the ability to drop kick.

His mechanical protege had an "X-factor" and could teach the real-life kickers a thing or two about basics, Dr Flemmer said.

"What they could learn is that if they strike the ball perfectly every time, it will fly straight and true every time ... the laws of physics are not suspended for a rugby game."

The Dominion Post