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The story of the TTMatic table tennis robot development

In 1970, at the age of 20 years, an engineering student named Harald Merkt began to play table tennis. Because of his late entry into the sport, he found himself at a significant disadvantage to the players he met at the local club who had started playing in their early childhoods. To be successful and competitive, Harald would need to overcome his lack of experience in a very short time.

As a first step, to improve his serves, Harald installed a net behind the table, so that he could more easily practice the serve (see gallery). Soon, this training method was no longer sufficient.

Next, Harald put his engineering studies (and his desire to excel) into the service of table tennis. He came up with the idea of designing an automatic table tennis robot, which would make it possible to practice his strokes without a partner and without time limits.

After one year of work the prototype of the robot (including a motor of a sewing-machine and a transformer of a model railway) was ready for training. Soon, Harald's colleagues at the local club saw a big improvement in his play. When the club players learned the improvement was coming from Harald's practice with a robot he had created, they wanted the same opportunity to improve their own table tennis techniques. It was not long before other clubs heard about this, and they too were interested in the advantages the new table tennis robot could bring to their training.

As a result the company H.Merkt Apparatebau was established on August 1, 1974, in Horb am Neckar, near Stuttgart, to make robot training available to table tennis enthusiasts generally. With simple advertising media, fair visits and uncounted live demonstrations, the robots became known outside of Germany. By 1976 the new training machines were being delivered to table tennis players in many other European countries.

Today TTmatic robots are exported to 80 countries all around the globe.

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