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I played ping pong with a robot and it went easy on me

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No, this isn't the Tokyo Game Show. OMRON, the alleged company behind Amazon Fire's face-tracking feature, exhibited its ping pong robot at CEATEC just to demonstrate its automation prowess. Well, by robot we don't mean the humanoid kind; it's more of a large silver crane that swings a bat with three arms. It even has a stationary head that looks down upon its human challenger (including this author, as shown in the video after the break); that's where all the sensors are stored in order to track the player and the ball. The brain, on the other hand, is tucked into a cabinet next to the robot.

Update: We managed to get a rematch with the robot, and you can watch it in our new video after the break.

Playing Ping Pong with a Robot

For the sake of harmony between man and machine, OMRON actually lowered the robot's performance in order to let the humans win once in a while. Apparently the robot's strikes would be too fast if running at full capacity. Still, I was quite surprised by my metallic friend's speedy response to my volleys -- it was as if I was playing a casual game with another human, especially with the way it flipped the bat between left and right sides. The prototype did have one physical disadvantage, though: the arms weren't long enough to reach the middle of the table, so I had to hit the ball a bit further to keep the game going -- we managed 15 continuous volleys at best (and, most importantly, I came out in one piece afterwards).

While OMRON has no plans to commercialize this amusing machine, we can see how it could be repurposed for more practical tasks under constantly-changing conditions. According to Forbes' Michael Kanellos, this could make a more sophisticated "pick and place" robot that can quickly adapt to different production lines. And when no one's looking, it can go back to playing ping pong with fellow robots.

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