Oct. 24 - China's world-class table tennis players may soon face competition from two robots, programmed by scientists to serve, return and hold rallies. The humanoid machines have been equipped with ball-tracking technology and responsive limbs and could one day give human opponents a run for their money. Rob Muir reports.
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They're far from Olympic-standard but by robot standards, Wu and Kong are masters of the table tennis table.
The robots were built by students at Zhejiang University. They are equipped with eye-mounted cameras that send 120 images per second to a processor which responds almost instantly with information about the ball's landing position and trajectory. That information is sent to individually powered joints which, according to robotics lab director Xiong Rong, give Wu and Kong their unique playing prowess.
(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) DIRECTOR OF ROBOTICS LABORATORY OF ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY, XIONG RONG, SAYING:
"We chose to design table tennis playing robots because it is very Chinese and involves a lot of technologies, such as recognising the speed and positioning of an object and predicting its moving path. The robots must be able to respond quickly and control their body movement, and keep balance at the same time."
Eventually, says doctorate student Zhang Yifeng, the team hopes to develop faster more flexible robots that compete seriously wirth humans.
(SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) DOCTORATE CANDIDATE, ZHANG YIFENG SAYING:
"Their main purpose is for partner training. Our aim was to develop robot training partners which could return the ball to the correct position for a human player. That is to say, no matter where the ball lands, the robot can return it to the right place for you."
After four years of work, they''re off to a good start, although the team is always working on improvements. They want to give Wu and Kong the ability to move quickly from side to side and arm them with a few new shots like a slice or curve. The aim, they say, is to create a true competition between man and machine.
Rob Muir, Reuters.