Batter Up

A remote-control, baseball-hitting robot made from a mishmash of junked parts steps up to the plate. See inside for video

The Headless Batsman
****Cost:
$10
Time: 7 Days

How it Works:

  • PITCH For the pitching machine [left], Barnes sawed off the ends of a fire extinguisher and rigged up an air compressor with the power to launch balls 60 feet, at up to 60 mph.
  • POWER A button on the remote opens a valve on the Batsman, sending a jolt of air to the robot from a compressor that drives a piston that forces the arms forward.
  • SWING Tiny springs inside the robot´s wrists allow it to follow through; the momentum generated by its hip and shoulder rotation transfers through the bat to the ball.

True, it was built in Germany-and by an Englishman. Yet the Headless Batsman could not be a more American invention: a 265-pound quasi-human-shaped robot made from a jumble of salvaged auto parts, steel piping and pneumatic hoses for the sole purpose of belting every fastball thrown its way.

Frank Barnes, a 30-year-old industrial artist, built the Batsman, as well as a complementary pitching machine, on a whim. He spent a day taking cuts with a bat to work out the swing mechanics, ultimately electing to focus on the robot´s hips, shoulders and arms. A junked disc brake acts as its hips, enabling the torso to rotate as the bat swings through, and Barnes machined the arms from steel pipes. To give it a solid stance, in lieu of legs, he used a stand originally intended to hold cable spools.

Barnes holds batting practice all by himself. Standing behind the robot, he uses a homemade controller to fire a ball out of the pitching machine. Then it´s time to hit. On the same controller, one button rotates the robot´s hips, another activates the arms, and a third lifts or drops its inside shoulder, changing the trajectory of its swing. After much practice, Barnes can now get it to hit most pitches.

The Batsman won´t make the majors, but Barnes suggests another career option: â€Put some wheels on it, drive it around-I figure I can use it for security.â€