One of the most important members of the Equipment Specifications and Certifications team at the United States Bowling Congress isn't a scientist, it's a state-of-the-art ball-throwing robot named E.A.R.L.
E.A.R.L. (Enhanced Automated Robotic Launcher) is designed to be able to consistently simulate any type of bowling style with an accuracy and consistency on the lanes that no human bowler can achieve. Those qualities make E.A.R.L. invaluable in the many studies necessary to keep up with the ever-changing bowling ball industry.
The newest member of the team, E.A.R.L. has been brought in to replace the organization's first robot, Harry, which was introduced in 1999 and recently was retired after more than a decade of research.
Harry was a unique, computer-controlled hybrid machine partly encased in safety glass that combined hydraulics, air pressure and electronics to power a mechanical arm that delivered bowling balls to help test balls, lanes, pins and oil patterns. Harry was similar to the United States Golf Association's robotic golfer "Iron Byron," whose mechanical arm swings golf clubs for research purposes.
E.A.R.L. has more automated features than Harry and can throw the ball left-handed or right-handed. It can consistently duplicate shot after shot at ball speeds anywhere from 10-24 miles per hour and rev rates anywhere from 50-900 rpm, a significantly wider range than its predecessor.
Pairing the robot and the International Training and Research Center's computerize ball-tracking program, a computer and sensor system that precisely tracks bowling ball location and speed as it travels down a lane, gives USBC a key advantage in the sophisticated tracking and measurement of ball motion data.
The main goal of the ball motion studies, started in 2005, is to gather data about the complex dynamics and inner motion characteristics of today's high-tech bowling balls. USBC is testing to determine how balls with different properties and characteristics act together, then use this and other information obtained in working with bowling ball manufacturers and other industry leaders to set performance-based specifications for bowling balls used in USBC-certified competition.
E.A.R.L. was named by USBC Junior Gold youth bowler Melissa Stewart of Roswell, Ga. She figured if bowling great Earl Anthony's nickname was "The Machine," then it was only "fitting to name the new ball-throwing robot for a bowler with machine-like characteristics."