Drinking Game Goes Digital with RFID

Atalon Ventures' PONGConnect table, software and apps automate beer-pong competitions to make scores absolute and digital, thus preventing disagreements even when players are intoxicated.
Published: March 23, 2021

Radio frequency identification is injecting sober scoring into an interactive table for beer pong so that winners and losers need not rely on drunken tallies. The  PONGConnect solution consists of an RFID-enabled pong table with an Internet connection and apps for players to track scores and ratings. By automatically capturing tag reads from official beer-pong balls, the technology keeps track of scores while players focus on the game’s two key features: throwing balls and drinking.

The game is provided by  Atalon Ventures, a Hong Kong-based technology company. Since its release, the game has brought beer pong into e-sports, a video game-style competition in which players in remote locations can compete against each other, according to Steven Yip, the company’s founder and CEO.

Beer pong originated as a casual drinking game that could be played on any surface on which a cup of beer could be placed. Players toss ping-pong balls into beverage-filled cups or glasses, with the intent of landing their ball in one of the cups. There are some rules to the game. Whoever’s cup the ball ends up in must drink the entire beer (or another beverage if players are observing hygienic practices), and the winner is generally the one who has scored the most throws and is thus the most sober. For those following a stricter protocol, there is an official pong table regulation size: 94.5 inches by 30.71 inches.

Not surprisingly, the PONGConnect concept was conceived during a friendly match of beer pong. Yip recalls that he and a companion were playing the game in 2014 when they discovered one of its key flaws: keeping track of scores became more difficult as the evening went on and inebriation increased. “We got drunk and completely forgot the result,” Yip says. The next morning, the two argued over who had been the winner—and this mattered, since the loser had been designated to pay the bar tab. “At that moment, an interesting idea popped up in my mind: What if I could design a digital beer-pong table that is able to record scores fairly and make beer pong become an official e-sport?”

Yip has a background in technology, and so he began developing a solution that led to his launching Atalon Ventures in Hong Kong in 2016. The company strives to promote business development with innovation, technology and enterprise services, he explains. Since its launch, the firm has secured a series of patents on products that it is now selling worldwide, all focused on beer-pong gaming.

The connected table at the center of the solution, known as PONGConnect, comes with what the company calls state-of-the-art RFID ball-detection technology. In addition to RFID readers, the table features two LED screens that display the scores of all players. The RFID technology is intended to detect the exact moment when a ball lands in a beverage cup during play, as well as which cup, thereby identifying whether a player has scored.

The table comes with 10 dedicated spaces for beer cups on each side, and Atalon Ventures provides disposable plastic drinking cups that fit into each recessed space. The company also provides the balls, each containing a passive HF 13.56 MHz RFID tag compliant with ISO 15693. A total of 22 RFID readers and 20 antennas uniquely identify the spaces in the table, and thus the specific cup in which the ball lands. Two more antennas are located at the space between cups. An RFID tag is built into each ball in such a way that it will not interfere with performance, Yip says. The HF technology follows international standards to ensure it can be operated globally.

Players first scan a QR code to launch the game, then input their account ID to set up a beer-pong match and identify both players. Each ball’s RFID tag has a unique ID number that can be linked to a particular player. During their turn, players toss the ping-pong ball at the beer cups. If the ball lands in a cup, the tag ID is read by the reader antenna dedicated to that spot, and thus to a player’s beer cup. The LED screen tallies the points, updates the player’s score and identifies which individual must drink.

Steven Yip

Data about the game is forwarded to the cloud-based scoring system via a Wi-Fi connection or using a cable plugged into a USB port. Users can download the PONGConnect app on their smartphone to view their score, and they can store game results once a match is finished. The software and app enable players in different geographic locations to compete and see the results of each throw, Yip says, which is why he views beer pong as an e-sport. They can, for instance, participate digitally in some of the sport’s official world championships.

Developing the RFID-enabled table posed a few technical challenges, Yip recalls, starting with the high presence of liquids. “It is inevitable that various alcoholic liquids will be spilled on the PONGConnect table during use,” he explains. If a beverage penetrates the table’s built-in electronics, it could damage the reader chips and circuitry. “Therefore, when designing the hardware, our engineers added waterproof and tight rubber strips to all components.”

This prevents the leakage of liquids, he says, and two water channels inside the chassis further ensure that liquids cannot enter the table’s electronics. This waterproofing, however, introduced another challenge. “The waterproofing material will affect the accuracy of RFID identification,” Yip states. So to ensure tag-read accuracy, the company’s engineers placed the reader antenna in a suspended position. The antennas were then evenly installed according to a specific, measured distance.

Since the gaming table system was released, Yip reports, it has made the drinking game fairer, and also more fun for players. “The feedback that I have been getting [from those using the technology] is incredibly positive,” he says. “PONGConnect has transformed what was an analogue game into a modern and competitive e-sport.” The technology has enabled the company to introduce a variety of new game modes. For example, Atalon Ventures developed games known as Combo Out and Count Up to make competitions more challenging and entertaining for regular players.

Ultimately, Yip says, those using the digital beer-pong table can eliminate scoring disputes, while players can gain more data regarding their performance than they could achieve by simply scoring manually with pen and paper. The system can display a player’s ranking, overall statistics and achievement badges earned, as well as enable them to create a personal-themed user interface display.

Atalon Ventures markets the table and game for both competitive and casual players. “In the near future,” Yip states, “we are excited to develop more advanced features and grow the beer-pong community all around the world.” Throughout the course of 2020, the company expanded its sales to 42 cities in 16 countries, with more than 200,000 registered players.