Meet Wu and Kong - the latest in ping pong playing robots. They may not achieve exciting matches at the moment, but the fact that they can do the job at all is an indication of how fast things are moving.
Unlike many other game-playing robots these two players are humanoid and are kitted out in old style chinese jackets. They are about 1.6 meters tall and weigh in at 55 kilos. They track the ball with video cameras situated in their heads and then play a variety of strokes.They were developed by Zhejiang University and are currently turning up on the Chinese media as a novelty item.
Their chief creator Xiong Rong, chief designer at the university's robot lab explains that the task is basically visual tracking. The cameras work at 120 frames per second, so as to keep up with the fast moving ball, and it takes around 50 to 100 milliseconds for a robot to respond with a position fix that is accurate to 2.5 cm - it's a good job the bat is bigger. Processing is performed by computers connected to each of the robots.
At the end of the video, you can see examples of the robots playing backhand and forehand strokes and playing with a human. The fluency of movement is impressive.
The current record for a rally is 144 rounds between robots. Humans cancompete against them, but the robots lack the variety of shots that makes table tennis a game of strategy as well as accuracy.
The project has taken four years to complete and is part of a larger government-sponsored push to build workable robots for home and industry.
Although table tennis is big in China, the project's long-term objective isn't to create great robot players - it's a test bed for fast robotic systems.
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