John Henry is still alive.
March 14, 2014 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Two commercials came out this week from KUKA starring their robot and their new spokesman. Timo Boll vs the Agilus robot, and the obligatory The Making Of video to go with it. Player reaction ranged from FAKE!!! to possible-but-highly-staged. It's at least more real than the Bruce Lee/Nokia video.

Table Tennis robots have been around since the 70's but these are just machines that shoot the balls at you more-or-less realistically, and most robots come with a net to catch and recycle the balls.
They range in price from the iPong, at around $100, to the Butterfly Amicus at around $2200, or you could build your own. (This last one reminds me of the one I built out of old computer parts in 1979.)

Lately ones that actually play have shown up. Topio has been around since 2007, but wasn't likely to worry tournament players any time soon. (Yes, I know they said that about chess too...)
These ones are better, but still basement players.
Can't tell about the MIT one.
This is the best candidate so far, for my money.
posted by MtDewd (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For any task involving reaction time, dexterity, or strength (so yes, just about any physical task), a robot will always far surpass a human--if other humans choose to spend enough time and money to make it happen. We have to accept this.

If you watched the DARPA Robotics Challenge a couple months ago, you saw a bunch of robots that failed hilariously at going through doors and took 40 minutes to climb one ladder step before giving up. But the important thing isn't that they tried and failed, it's that they've begun trying, and it's only a matter of time.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:39 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Table tennis and robots are two subjects near and dear to my heart and so I had waiting for its release and was heartily disappointed to watch that video.

The best way you can tell it's fake is because it's not shot in the flat, off center way all table tennis matches are normally recorded at. And that half of the robot's points don't come from Timo Boll hitting the net, like all table tennis matches.
posted by pmv at 2:40 PM on March 14, 2014

That video's about as real as Shaolin Soccer.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:41 PM on March 14, 2014

It pretty much doesn't matter what robot you do this with.
Any modern small industrial robot should be able to keep up. The impressive bit (if this were real) is the vision systems and hooking those vision systems into telling the robot where to move.
Industrial manipulator arms are a solved problem.

I used to work on robot football, where the processing and strategy stuff is put to a fairly rigorous test:

MiroSot where the limitation is software. Interbot communication, strategy and image processing all in a super competitive environment.

Robot football has moved on though. When I was... let's say coaching, they looked like that.
Here is what my old team looks like now. The goal is a team of robots to play a team of humans by 2050.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:03 PM on March 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Totally unintelligible edit they put together there. Michael Bay?
posted by echo target at 3:03 PM on March 14, 2014

Not enough explosions. All the speedramps make me think of Zack Snyder. Either way I wish there was a more straightforward version so we could see what was happening.
posted by Uncle Ira at 3:18 PM on March 14, 2014

They spent all that money on programming the robot and producing this film, only to completely destroy any potential effect it might have by completely neglecting to show plain footage from a single vantage point without any framerate ramping or other nonsense. Seriously, a $100 camcorder stuck on a $20 tripod that just filmed the entire match straight through would have resulted in a better video. It really grinds my gears.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:11 PM on March 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seriously, a $100 camcorder stuck on a $20 tripod that just filmed the entire match straight through would have resulted in a better video.

Totally agree, which is why I think it's fake.

Related and more interesting: high-speed ping-pong ball tracking, high-speed robotic hands.
posted by suedehead at 9:37 PM on March 14, 2014

I will die with this paddle in my hand?
posted by Sphinx at 3:38 AM on March 15, 2014

I would find Boll vs. Kuka very giggle-worthy if I knew Swedish and was about eight years old. Now only one of those are true, but I still find it a bit amusing.
posted by effbot at 3:59 AM on March 15, 2014

Saaaaay, that's one sweet looking robot. Hey, babe! Wanna kill all humans with me tonight?
posted by loquacious at 4:13 AM on March 15, 2014

There are shots (2:14) where high speed robotic cameras (Spike camera) are operating inside the field of play. It is literally impossible to do those shots without choreographing them. The camera move has to be programmed ahead of time.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:28 AM on March 15, 2014

Well of course, it's choreographed, and scripted as well (got to have a happy ending). There's a shot in The Making Of where you see the inside camera work.
The Making Of is in some ways more disappoining than the main video, because it keeps up the pretense: "I'm excited to see which of the two will emerge victorious.", and doesn't show what the robot can really do.

suedehead has ball tracking links, but I think the biggest technical challenge to the robot (and to human players everywhere) is determining the spin on the ball. Anyone care to weigh in on how that could be done? Position seems a lot easier. In my last link it appears both the human and the robot are using hard bats, which helps a little, but you still have to have a pretty good sense of what kind of spin is on the ball. That machine returns one smash and nearly returns the next one, but the bat angle is wrong.
posted by MtDewd at 8:36 AM on March 15, 2014

John Henry is still alive. John Henry was the first album I ever bought. Coincidence? Or... CONSPIRACY?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:06 AM on March 15, 2014

Frankly I would be more interested to see how a game would go between two identical robots, than between a human and a robot. Machine like perfection meets a hint of random chance....
posted by Redhush at 1:39 PM on March 15, 2014

Not directly related, but The made-up maker: How two animators fooled the web
Ulf Hoffmann's garage ping pong robot became a small YouTube sensation but turned out to be an elaborate fake shortly thereafter. Two weeks later, it appears the builder himself isn't real either.

Ulf Hoffmann and his robot were not created for a client, but rather for the studio itself. Planning to start an agency for viral campaigns this year, Becker and Tron made up Hoffmann as an experiment on how far they could go.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2014

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