Robots have replaced humans in many fields of life but one rarely thinks that the application of robot would someday replace athletes as well. In today’s article we have one such robot that has the potential to rival major league professionals. The robot can catch things thrown at it with amazing speed and accuracy.
This piece of machinery is the brain child of a group of researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, lucky for the professional athletes that at this stage it’s just a robotic arm rather than a whole robot running around catching stuff.
The researchers are using “programming by observation”, a technique thought to be quite effective in comparison to traditional programming, to teach the robotic arm to catch whatever is being thrown at it. The robotic arm manages to catch the things by 3 fingers and a thumb, an assembly mimicking that of a human hand (however the absence of a finger does not seem to hinder the operations of the robotic arm).
Cameras attached to the robot allows it to determine the trajectory of the object coming its way, at the moment researchers are manually operating and positioning the arm in order to teach the arm to catch the objects. Traditional coding would not be effective here because by the time the processing is being done the object would have already hit the ground.
Aude Billard of the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL says that this method of “programming by observation” makes the robot much faster than if they tried to write regular code that explained how to catch something.