I am interested in putting together a tennis ball launcher.

It's accuracy/precision are not important. Even varying distance by ~50% or more per shot doesn't matter (it's for my dogs).

What type of solenoid can I use to drive this in a hollow tube, like the picture?

If this is impractical please give an actual reason.

I would also like to be able to drive this with a reasonably sized battery (12-24V; I could use a car battery but hopefully that is not required).

A tennis ball weighs (58.5g). Lets say that it needs to launch the tennis ball upwards ~6m

$$ H = v^2/(2g) = 6m $$ $$ v=\sqrt{(12*g)}=10.8 \frac ms $$ $$ E_k = (m*v^2)/2 = \frac{58.5*117.6}2 = 3.43 J $$

Likewise the energy stored in a capacitor is: $$ E_c = \frac{C*V^2}{2} $$ If I discharge from a capacitor to achieve this energy quickly, (lets say 24V) $$ C = \frac{E_c}{2V^2} = 3mF $$

Rough sketch: goofy sketch

Any inputs are appreciated

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Tennis ball launchers are readily available. Why should we be bothered to engineer a new one? Besides, this is more of a mechanical design question than an electronic one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Jul 25, 2016 at 22:25
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is mechanical engineering \$\endgroup\$ Jul 26, 2016 at 0:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry you're getting so worked up; truly. I'm impressed by your question and your research. As Scott said, we're trying to help you out. You already have two answers, one of which says to go mechanical. And a bunch of experienced people trying to lead you in a helpful direction (to the appropriate tech, and the appropriate Stack). Before you claim hypocrisy, please note the difference between comments and answers. I think your project is cool. I hope you make something work. And if you can do it with an unassisted solenoid, come back and show us! Maybe we're all missing something... \$\endgroup\$
    – bitsmack
    Jul 26, 2016 at 3:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, and by the way, nobody thinks your question is a bad one! That would manifest as downvotes ;) Having it closed so it can be asked elsewhere isn't any kind of insult. \$\endgroup\$
    – bitsmack
    Jul 26, 2016 at 3:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the comments, sorry for misunderstanding the intent. \$\endgroup\$
    – jbord39
    Jul 26, 2016 at 6:19

2 Answers 2


The component you are describing is generally called a "solenoid" in the EE field. Be aware that the term "solenoid" has other meanings within the EE world as well. But here I am referring to the generally available component known by that name.

A solenoid is a coil of wire wound on a tube. The tube generally has a circular cross-section. Inside that tube is an iron "plunger". The plunger is often spring loaded so it will have a preferred position in the tube.

When voltage is applied to the coil, the plunger will rapidly move from its resting position to its activated position. The displacement between these two positions is generally about 1/4 to 1 inch, but this is part of the design of the solenoid and can be made to vary according to certain geometric parameters inherent in the design of the solenoid.

Solenoids are manufactured in a wide variety of sizes and shapes for a large range of applications. They are ubiquitous in our world. For example, your personal vehicle probably has a solenoid as part of its starter motor. This solenoid is used to move the pinion gear on the starter motor shaft into mesh with the ring gear on the engine's flywheel. It produces the "click" you hear when you turn your ignition key and just before the starter motor starts cranking. Or, when your battery is dead and all you hear is that click under the hood.

Another common example is a gong - such as a commercial door bell sounder. This has a resonant metal dome which makes the actual sound. Underneath the metal dome is a solenoid. When the door bell switch is pressed, a voltage is applied to the solenoid, the solenoid's plunger flies upward, and strikes the dome, making the sound.

There's probably a solenoid activated valve in your refrigerator, gas furnace, or gas water heater. They are everywhere.

Go to www.mcmaster.com and search on "solenoid" and you will see a wide variety of stock units you can purchase to experiment with. I'm sure there are dozens of other internet sources.

To launch a tennis ball you will need a pretty large solenoid. Such a large solenoid will require a considerable amount of electrical power. You will have to experiment to figure out what's practical for your application. But, I'd start with the biggest solenoid I could find.

It's not out of the question that you can make your own solenoid. It's also possible to put a number of solenoids in series to increase the produced force. That is, a common, extra long, plunger with multiple coils you would take from stock solenoids. Though the plunger has to be built in a special way to accomplish this advantage.

That should be enough to get you started. Good Luck!


Pinball machines have lots of solenoids in them, as further examples to the ones in the other answers.

I would design a tennis ball launcher (something that needs to deliver a lot of energy rapidly) by using a mechanical energy store which is built up using electronic parts then released quickly - eg using a motor or rubber band and then firing off a solenoid to release the energy into the tennis ball.

Also, pneumatic mechanisms are highly capable of delivering lots of energy rapidly. See brands like Festool etc that are commonly used in factory assembly lines.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. What would one of the pneumatic mechanisms called? And would it require an external air pressurized air supply? I was hoping to keep this as simple as possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – jbord39
    Jul 26, 2016 at 0:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I wrote the wrong company. Festo (not Festool). Here is one pneumatic actuator festo.com/cat/en-au_au/products_010200 You will need an air supply. \$\endgroup\$
    – goodie
    Jul 26, 2016 at 1:29

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