Watch this robot play a table tennis champion — and almost win!

in a dramatically edited video, ping-pong pro Timo Boll meets his match against skilled robotic arm


Sarah Gray
March 12, 2014 6:45PM (UTC)

Yesterday, March 11, a Chinese robotic company hosted the first ever man versus robot table tennis match in Sofia, Bulgaria. Playing for the humans was Timo Boll, a former No. 1 table tennis champ from Germany. On the robot side we had the Chinese company Kuka's Agilus robotic arm.

Kuka's website lists 17 possible functions for the 114-pound, six-axis robot, including assembly, packaging and forging plants -- but surprisingly not ping-pong. As Mashable points out, the website  gives little insight into how this robot, with a nearly 3-foot arm-span, senses the ball. No visual sensor is listed. Agilu's quick reaction time and few misses are a mysterious technical feat, but will they be enough to beat Boll?

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The match (supposedly) happened in real time, although the resulting video is, well, highly stylized. With slow motion action, tense music and dramatic scorecard flipping, the above video is essentially a commercial for Kuka to promote its new robot factory in Shanghai.

Kuka is not alone in developing automated robots, Google is also working with Foxconn on cutting-edge robotics (even though Eric Schmidt is worried about how automation will impact jobs).  Fear not, Boll bested the robot by one point. Despite this victory for mankind, we all watched this video, so the robotics company was really the winner.

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Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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