Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Incredible Duel:Man Versus Robot in Ping Pong

Minimum wage advocates, watch out. The higher the minimum wage, the more that businesses will look at robots to replace workers. Not all automation is bad. In fact, it is investments in capital goods that have made the US the economic power that it is, however, high minimum wages result in automation ending up in places that wouldn't ordinarily see such automation. Think semi-automated, self-serve pump your own gas, for example. If there was no minimum wage, instead of youth roaming the streets, they could have a low paying first job pumping gas.

Slate sets the scene:

Timo Boll is currently ranked eighth in the world for table tennis, but has held the No. 1 spot. For the opening of KUKA's new Shanghai robotics factory, he came on to endorse KUKA and play the robot in ping-pong. According to the (incredibly overproduced) video, it was a super-intense match. Boll had to play hard to beat the KUKA 11-9 in a match for the ages. Or at least it looks like it in the video—who knows how much of that was planned.

Though the music and the lighting are slightly over the top, it's still pretty awesome to watch a robot and a human play a professional-level game of table tennis and make it look natural. KUKA's video is definitely absurdist, but also self-deprecating in a cool way. At the end the screen reads, “Not the best at table tennis, but probably the best in robotics.” Solid humble brag.


  1. If they post a video of 2 robots playing each other, I'd love to see that.

  2. While it is probably legit, there are too many edits to convince me it isn't CGI

    1. I have made tooling for Kuka robots, both pallet stackers & welders. I can tell you there's almost no way this video went down like it's being portrayed.

      If you want to see cutting edge robotics, check out Boston Dynamics...who unfortunately is doing most of their work for Darpa & US gov't "defense" related purposes.


      Also not surprisingly, Google just recently purchased them.

      The are several issues with this video, but the number 1 issue as I see it is that the "vision" software and interpolation algorithms needed are still way behind what the "human computer" can do on a speed basis.

      Based on my experience, I don't buy this video one bit. I could be wrong...but I obviously don't think so.

  3. The cinematography sucks. The camera is moving around so much, you can't actually see what's happening.

  4. "Not all automation is bad. "

    Faint praise indeed.

  5. Attention McDonalds customers. How would you like your eggs?

  6. As I suspected, there was CGI involved:


    For a more realistic idea of the progress of robots, this is a good start:


    It's still a little old, but notice that the window for a ball return is very small. That's because the numbers in 3D/Cartesian plane space get huge very quickly and the calculations required immense and robots can't anticipate(yet), only react.

    There's a lot of limitations still, but software limits and computational ability are the biggest issues and we all know that it's just a matter of time before they are solved....they just aren't quite there yet.