|Title||A new ball launching system with controlled flight parameters for catching experiments|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2011|
|Authors||d'Avella, A, Cesqui, B, Portone, A, Lacquaniti, F|
|Journal||J Neurosci Methods|
Systematic investigations of sensorimotor control of interceptive actions in naturalistic conditions, such as catching or hitting a ball moving in three-dimensional space, requires precise control of the projectile flight parameters and of the associated visual stimuli. Such control is challenging when air drag cannot be neglected because the mapping of launch parameters into flight parameters cannot be computed analytically. We designed, calibrated, and experimentally validated an actuated launching apparatus that can control the average spatial position and flight duration of a ball at a given distance from a fixed launch location. The apparatus was constructed by mounting a ball launching machine with adjustable delivery speed on an actuated structure capable of changing the spatial orientation of the launch axis while projecting balls through a hole in a screen hiding the apparatus. The calibration procedure relied on tracking the balls with a motion capture system and on approximating the mapping of launch parameters into flight parameters by means of polynomials functions. Polynomials were also used to estimate the variability of the flight parameters. The coefficients of these polynomials were obtained using the launch and flight parameters of 660 launches with 65 different initial conditions. The relative accuracy and precision of the apparatus were larger than 98% for flight times and larger than 96% for ball heights at a distance of 6m from the screen. Such novel apparatus, by reliably and automatically controlling desired ball flight characteristics without neglecting air drag, allows for a systematic investigation of naturalistic interceptive tasks.