A team over at the University of Illinois’ SigArch computer architecture program have fitted a classic 1978 Bally Star Trek pinball machine with a camera, PC board, and relays in an attempt to an answrer the question, “What happens when the computer wants to play a real pinball game?” –

A PIC18F452 on the circuit board takes flipper commands over the serial port. It also serves to route messages from the serial connection to other boards, such as the board in the backbox which reads the current score from the machine. A miniature video camera is suspended above the playfield where it can track the movement of the ball. It produces NTSC interlaced video at 60 fields per second suitable for capture with a TV capture card in a PC. Image-processing and artificial intelligence algorithms run on a Linux PC inside of the pinball machine cabinet.

The machine is no “Tommy” as of yet – due to some AI hardcoding used to meet exhibition deadlines. The team is currently implementing new reinforcement learning methods which promise a more adept pinball wizard to come.

Check out the site for more info, photos, and video – EOH 2004 Project: Pinball


The making of a pinball game

From the pages of MAKE: