Researcher Katharina Muelling poses with a ping pong playing robot she and her team at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany designed and built. The robot is comprised of an arm to which a paddle is attached as well as a camera that watches the table and area of play, responding to the opponent's moves. (Source: The Technical University of Darmstadt)
The first sentence is pretty funny. I've often wondered if some people were robots: not only in sports, but in customer service conversations, both on the phone and by email. As robots get more humanoid looking that's going to be harder to determine even with visual cues.
I must say, 88% return rate is much better than me. But I would be surprised if it could beat a series of new players consistently. Artificial intelligence may seem like a fantasy far into the future, but simple forms of artificial learning are already possible, and are quite formidable. This is definitely the first step in the right direction.
From the bot's perspective, the ball is probably moving in slow motion. A 60Hz sample rate is near in-human. Average reaction time in humans hovers around 200ms.
Good point about human verses bot reaction time - it reminded me of Data when he was tempted by the Borg Queen's offer to join her in First Contact - Captain Picard asked him how long he considered it and Data replied, "0.68 seconds sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity."
This is pretty amazing to see the robot learn how to play over time. At the Robot display at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, they have a robot setup to play air hockey. The robot used vision to analyze the table then would only go on an offensive shot when it saw that there was a clear angle to the goal. At all other times, it stayed on defense. The robot did a pretty good job and won most of its matches.
I wouldn't think that a legal serve should confuse the robot. In order to operate at all it needs to know the ball's location in space as well the "field" (i.e., its side of the table). Not sure that it would be able to keep score, but I would think it would be relatively simple to discount any bounces on the far side of the net, considering everything else it is work off of.
This was pretty fun to watch as the robot learned and got better. I'm sure somebody will eventually figure out a useful application for this one-armed pongster even if it's only for ping pong training camps. Maybe it can be used to toss packs of peanuts into the stands during a ball game?
Nice article, Elizabeth. I especially like the video. It seems were seeing more and more versions of humans against the machine. I love the fact that it learns. However, Chuck makes a good point about the backhand.