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Ping-pong robot plays extended rallies with humans

16 October, 2014

The Japanese automation manufacturer Omron has developed a ping-pong-playing robot which is capable of performing extended rallies with human opponents. It was demonstrated at a recent advanced technologies exhibition in Japan where it won a Grand Prix award for innovation.

Unlike another ping-pong robot announced earlier this year by Kuka, which was based on a conventional multi-axis arm robot arm, the Omron system is based on a tripod-shaped delta robot. And while the Kuka robot was shown publicly only on an edited video, the Omron version was demonstrated in live action at the recent Ceatec show in Chiba performing rallies with human opponents.

The Omron robot is guided by two machine vision systems which monitor not only the flight of the ball, but also the movements of the human opponent in three dimensions, helping the control system to predict the trajectory and velocity of the ball.

For the demonstration, the robot was programmed to return the ball to a spot on the ping-pong table where the human opponent would find it easy to return. Videos of the robot in action show that it did not always succeed in returning the ball.

Omron's ping pong robot in action against a human opponent

For Omron, the demonstration shows that it is possible for a robot to perform a variety of different tasks in a changing environment. Today’s industrial robots are usually built to perform fixed, repetitive tasks. Omron argues that future robots that can adapt to changing circumstances could do the work of six or seven fixed-function robots. They will also be able to detect and solve irregularities on production lines. But creating such versatile robots will require advances in real-time processing, sensing and mechanics.

On its stand at the Ceatec show, Omron was also demonstrating other advanced automation technologies, including a system that supresses vibrations to allow liquids to be transported quickly and smoothly, and the use of a visual feedback system to maintain double-inverted pendulum shafts in a stable, upside-down position.




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