Table tennis robot instructor finally gets the recognition it deserves

SI, for one, welcomes our new robot overlords.
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Table Tennis or Ping-Pong? No matter how the game is referenced or how seriously it is taken, there is now a robot designed to help players improve their skills. The Kyoto, Japan-based corporation, Omron, first debuted its table tennis robot in 2013. Last week, Omron announced FORPHEUS has officially been named the world’s “First Robot Table Tennis Tutor” by Guinness World Records.

FORPHEUS plays a simple game, but in order to constantly return the ball the robot has to take into account a multitude of factors within seconds. When a human player hits the ball, the robot begins to calculate its response, calculating up to 80 factors per second. Two cameras help it track the ball’s position and velocity. Then, using Omron’s proprietary prediction model, it sets itself up to return the shot.

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The robot is never trying to beat its human opponent. Omron’s intentions for FORPHEUS are to help human players improve. Therefore the robot does all that it can to put them in the best position to return the shot, which also means it has to put itself in the best position to return their shot.

It calculates ball speed, rotational speed and rotational direction to determine its paddle angle and the direction it needs to swing in order to hit through the mid point. It uses a five-axis motor to create these movements. To make it even easier on the human it is playing, FORPHEUS lights up a spot on their side of the table to indicate where the shot will land.

Omron’s robot was designed and built as part of their mission to revolutionize the relationship between humans and machines. But people looking for a robot to beat the best table tennis players in the world any time soon shouldn’t hold their breath.

The robot’s certification will appear in the 2017 edition of the Guinness Book of Records and is an impressive robotic accomplishment. But for those hoping to really improve their table tennis skills further than a simple and slow rally, keep playing against humans.