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Now, robots that play ping-pong

The robots, Wu and Kong process 120 images a second, and compute exactly where a ball is going to land, then hydraulic joints spring into action to return the ball.


Representational picture

At present, the robots - built at Zhejiang University - play at a leisurely pace by human standards - but their creators hope that their successors will be able to compete with humans.

The robots are equipped with eye-mounted cameras that send 120 images per second to a processor which responds almost instantly with information about the ball’s landing position and trajectory.

That information is sent to individually powered joints which, according to robotics lab director Xiong Rong, give Wu and Kong their unique playing prowess.

“We chose to design table tennis playing robots because it is very Chinese and involves a lot of technologies, such as recognising the speed and positioning of an object and predicting its moving path,” the Daily Mail quoted Rong as saying.

“The robots must be able to respond quickly and control their body movement, and keep balance at the same time,” the lab director said.

For now, the robots are too slow to present a serious challenge to human players - but are useful as a training aid.

The robots also can’t move rapidly from side to side like a human player - but that will change, the students said.

So far, the project has taken four years.

“Their main purpose is for partner training. Our aim was to develop robot training partners which could return the ball to the correct position for a human player. That is to say, no matter where the ball lands, the robot can return it to the right place for you,” student Zhang Yifeng said.

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