Does it really take years of practice and dedication on the basketball court to compete with the talents of NBA players? Apparently not. All you need is some basic knowledge of physics, access to computer simulation software, and enough tools to build a curved backboard that directs every shot through the hoop.
It’s a creation that’s reminiscent of Mark Rober’s motion-tracking dart board that automatically repositions itself to guarantee bullseyes with every throw. But Shane Wighton’s custom backboard takes a passive approach to the problem of being really bad at sinking hoops—though there was still a lot of thought and engineering that went into its design.
To help figure out the exact shape needed for the backboard to redirect every basketball shot down and through the hoop, Wighton created a piece of software that simulated throws from hundreds of different angles and speeds. The results are an elliptic paraboloid (a shape made from both ellipses and paraboloids) that looks less like a pointed noise cone and more like a flattened decorative fruit bowl.
The shape of the backboard was converted to a 3D mesh that an automated CNC cutting tool was able to carve out of pieces of wood that were later assembled to create one large smooth shape once some expanding spray foam was used to fill in the cracks.
Oddly enough, when fully assembled for the first time the backboard didn’t work as predicted. Every shot was instead directed to the front of the hoop, causing each one to bounce out. After investigating, Wighton realized that his simulations didn’t account for the size of the ball itself, so after he extended the hoop away from the backboard by a couple of inches to compensate, every shot started to hit its target.
It’s another example of how science can help with a lack of ability, but sadly this backboard design isn’t regulation. Any hoop dreams Wighton might have are limited to his workshop half court—but nothing is stopping him from raising his own jersey (or T-shirt) to the roof and retiring his number.