Robot Pingpong Coach helps players improve their table tennis game

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Robots and the artificial intelligence that powers them are already improving a wide variety of facets of life on Earth. They can perform detailed surgical procedures with precision, take part in dangerous search and rescue missions, and even take care of pesky chores like washing the dishes. Of course, robots can also take our jobs and threaten to get up and run down that Old West theme park the folks at HBO keep talking about. But they also at least have the ability to do some good in this world, like teaching the hand-eye coordination needed to play ping pong.

FORPHEUS is the world’s first robotic table tennis instructor. His name is an acronym for a bunch of tech-sounding words that don’t make much sense to laymen when strung together. (If you really want to know: “Future Omron Robotics technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonized aUtomation with Sinic theoretics.”) What matters is that the robot uses sensors and cameras to track a player’s abilities and technique. It also maintains rallies and shows players where the ball will land when returned, to help them better anticipate the next move. The robot then sends instructions and encouragement via a panel screen that crosses the table. Here’s how it all works:

Omron, the company behind FORPHEUS, even imagines the training robot not only strengthening table tennis skills, but also family bonds, as this video illustrates:

Turns out FORPHEUS isn’t the only table tennis robot tutor in town. Trainerbot is a mechanical ping pong partner that helps users work on their games by firing a steady stream of balls that can be adjusted for different speeds and spins. What the bot doesn’t do is return the ball when you return it to the machine. Guess he’s not ready to take on FORPHEUS anytime soon – or take over any of our human roles just yet.

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