Mechanical Students Develop Cue Testing Machine

Cue Test Machine Senior Design Team

Mechanical engineering students have sunk the eight ball with a novel senior design project set to revolutionize the cue stick manufacturing industry. Built from scratch, the cue-testing machine allows researchers to measure and compare the performance of different sticks.

Designed and built by students Falah Al-Musalami, Jared Adams, Ross Tichota, Kevin Murphy and Chris Ward, under the direction of project adviser Dr. David Alciatore, the Cue Test Machine (CTM) compares different cue sticks by measuring the squirt, or angular change in the initial cue ball direction due to an off-center hit. Created on a simulated billiards table, the machine, able to reproduce accurate and precise shots, releases a cue stick attached to a spring-loaded carriage that slides on a linear rail, into a cue ball. The shot is then trapped at the end of the table under a scale, which allows researchers to measure the squirt angle. Typical squirt angles range from one to three degrees.

In the second phase of the project, students plan to build a subsequent table system, outfitted with optical sensors to measure squirt angle and ball velocity more accurately. In addition, the team hopes to add accelerometers and microphones to quantify the "feel" and "sound" of a cue. Measurements from these sensors would allow the group to quantify cue sticks with a derived number system based on these qualitative attributes of each stick, for possible use on packaging labels in the retail market.

"I like that what we're building is actually going to be used in the billiards industry," said Chris. "This project has been a great change from typical class homework assignments."

Students measure squirt angle
Cue Test Machine
Cue Test Machine
Students measure squirt angle
Dr. Alciatore and Dave Gross
Dave Gross and Dr. Alciatore

When asked why they chose the Cue Testing Machine for their senior design project, the students said they liked that it was a new project and involved almost everything they have learned about in school. Of particular interest was the mechatronics nature of the project. A combination of mechanical engineering skills, electronics and manufacturing, this project allows students the opportunity to hone a variety of engineering skills, and implement concepts acquired in the classroom.

"I am looking forward to finishing up our work in the shop so we can start focusing on the electronics and consumer appeal," says Kevin as the first semester of the project is coming to a close.

As seniors, several of the students have begun looking ahead to graduation. A number of teammates will pursue master's degrees in mechanical engineering or enroll in the new School of Biomedical Engineering at Colorado State University.

"This project is very exciting to me because it uses much of what I teach in my required junior-level mechatronics course, where we teach the students to incorporate modern electronics into mechanical designs," said Dr. Alciatore. "The project results will also help me write some interesting articles for Billiards Digest. I write a monthly column for them on the physics of billiards, and I look forward to presenting some useful results that might help improve the cue industry and how people play the game."

A true billiards aficionado, Alciatore, best known by students as Dr. Dave, has been a professor of mechanical engineering at CSU for over 15 years. Now he is spreading his love for the game outside the research lab to the Fort Collins community. Conducting a course through the Fort Collins Recreator, Alciatore, along with top regional player Dave Gross, is offering courses for anyone interested. The first course, Pool and Billiards Fundamentals, covers pool basics and builds an understanding of basic physics principles useful at the table. Alciatore and Gross plan to offer the course every fall and spring. The next course starts April 5, 2008.

Alciatore's next sports-related project is bowling. Currently he is advising a graduate student finishing his master's thesis on bowling equipment physics and engineering. Pool isn't Alciatore's only passion; he has bowled in the CSU bowling league on Monday nights for many years, and even bowled a perfect game (300) a couple of years ago.

Additional Information

Dr. Alciatore is author of "The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards," as well as a monthly instructional column for "Billiards Digest Magazine." To view numerous video demonstrations and his articles, visit his website at .

For more information on the mechanical senior design program please visit

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