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)
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.
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.