Ping-pong dreams and brotherly love fuel Phoenix's creativity

Nov 25, 2019
Ping-pong dreams and brotherly love fuel Phoenixs creativity
Computer engineering junior Joseph Patullo works on Kazooie, a ping-pong ball launcher he built to give his younger brother something to play against while Patullo pursues his studies at Florida Polytechnic University.

Florida Polytechnic University student Joseph Patullo and his younger brother, Paul, spent many evenings in their Hollywood, Florida, home going head to head in friendly ping-pong matches over the years. That inevitably changed a couple of years ago.

“Once I came to college, he had no one to play with and was kind of bummed out,” said Patullo, a computer engineering junior.

Patullo bought his brother a $30 ping-pong ball launcher to play against, but said the machine limply released balls from its end, rendering it practically useless. Better models would cost upwards of $250, so Patullo decided to build a better ping-pong ball launcher himself and give it to Paul as a gift.

“I’ve loved doing this project. I’m having so much fun,” he said. “I was up many nights until 1 or 2 in the morning after being here in the lab for four or five hours.”

The machine, which he named Kazooie after the egg-shooting bird in the Super Smash Bros Ultimate videogame, is finally nearing completion after a semester of hard work. A hopper holds ping-pong balls, which are rotated into a launcher chute that blasts them across the room according to programmed modes. Patullo 3D printed many of the machine’s pieces at Florida Poly.

“Being in this lab (the rapid Application Development MakerSpace lab) all the time, we’ve got the 3D print guys, the robotics guys, mechanical, electrical – we all teach each other in here,” Patullo said.

As president of Purple Fire Robotics at Florida Poly, Patullo said he was spurred to finally begin working on the project after thinking about it for two years because he wanted to be a role model for others in the group.

“We want people to do personal projects in robotics and I thought I should lead by example,” he said. “So hey, I had this dream of mine and started to make it happen. Other people are now doing their own personal projects because they see how this one turned out.”

Patullo said the project has been a big learning experience. He leaned on the expertise of students in other disciplines and Florida Poly faculty members to help him along the way.

Now that the structure is nearly complete, all that is left is programming Kazooie. Patullo and two classmates will take on the task to get the robot one step closer to its final form. When they’re finished, Kazooie will be programmed to operate on beginner, intermediate, and expert modes.

If all goes well, the Patullo brothers will be playing against Kazooie during the winter break this December.

“I can’t wait,” he said.