Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Play Airhockey Against Kazakhstan’s Best

Engadget recently featured the coolest thing to happen to fringe sports in a while: Airhockey Over a Distance. Admittedly, the name sucks, no way around that. But it’s fixable. It’s the technology that’s cool. This device let’s you play airhockey against someone on the other side of the planet.

With the technology, you play on half an airhockey table, facing a large television screen showing your opponent in Kazakhstan (or wherever), who is playing on an identical table with a screen showing you. As Mental_Floss describes it, the table is “hooked up with sensors and a fancy puck ejecting system that can track how fast you and your opponent are slapping the puck, and at what angles, to simulate face-to-face play.” This turns every internet cafe or T1 line into Silicon Valley’s version of ESPNZone’s game area.

Normally I find souped up pucks highly suspicious (anyone remember FoxTrax?), but this sounds too cool not to be a good thing. Think of the game potential. Airhockey leagues could sprout up all over the world without any regard for geographic lines, like a league based on people who like to play while drinking beer (ok, that’s a pretty big league). Its members could populate every pub on earth. The game would no longer be confined to buddies who get together at the local bar or arcade. Anyone can play against anyone else. We might be able to answer that timeless question: who really is the best airhockey player in the world? Admit it – you’ve always wanted to know.

I also like the odds of a pro league sprouting up because of this. Why? First, everyone knows and likes airhockey already. This isn’t a hard sport to sell on first impression. Second, and more importantly, no travel costs. Everyone just plays down the street. It’s basically got the ABA’s business model: low travel costs mean that you don’t actually have to make that much money in each home game/event.

Not particularly relevant but entirely worth mentioning: Engadget’s coverage of video games that pit you against your hamster shows that the future of fringe sports could involve one-on-one man v. pet events. Word to the wise – if a rodent can beat you at Halo 2, you need to find a new hobby because you suck at your current one.

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