Prominent individuals in the world of science and technology, including Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, were in the news recently after co-signing a letter discussing the potential dangers of advanced artificial intelligence. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but they really do worry about what could happen if we take the digital mind too far. Fortunately, the latest robot unveiled by Japanese electronics company Omron shouldn’t cause any such problems. The 2.7-meter-tall, intelligent robot may conjure distressing images of The Terminator for some, but don’t panic, this AI just wants to teach you how to play table tennis.
Omron’s table tennis robot uses a sophisticated array of cameras and sensors to monitor a moving ball 80 times a second. Its first iteration dazzled the media after demonstrating that it can hold a simple rally almost indefinitely.
Yet now, with a few adaptations, its potential as a high-tech table tennis tutor is being realised. Omron’s latest model is not just capable of predicting where its paddle needs to be, it can also indicate, via LED lighting, where its return shot is going to bounce.
Like any good teacher, the robot also takes the skill level of its student into account. A badly hit slow ball will be returned gently, while a well hit ball will be returned with pace, to keep the rally moving fluidly. If the human player completely skews their shot, missing the table entirely, the robot will make a futile lunge towards the ball, so it ‘appears to make an effort.’ What a good sport!
But don’t worry, this particular robot isn’t likely to bruise all our egos any time soon. It needs a bit of work before it can threaten a human in a proper competitive match, as it hasn’t quite mastered how to cope with spin. Still, the potential of this technology is hugely exciting. Omron’s table tennis robot demonstrates how we can harness technology to help players of the future learn, strategise, and ultimately improve their table tennis game.
Technological innovations such as this can’t help but stoke the imagination. It isn’t too far-fetched to envision a future in which artificial intelligence can be incorporated within robotic table tennis coaches, and then programmed, or ‘taught’, to align with the talents and techniques of the best players in the world, allowing the next generation of players to take their skills to a whole new level.
A commercial release for Omron’s robot tutor seems a fair way off, but in the meantime, table tennis remains a remarkably accessible sport. At Caloo we sell some of the world’s finest outdoor table tennis tables, so if you’re looking to master the sport, or just to have some fun with your non-android friends, click to check out our range.