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Rambunctious Robots Playing Badminton

How long will it be before robots can beat humans at any form of racket-based sport, including ping pong, badminton, and tennis?

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For some reason, I keep running across things that I now discover have been around for ages (well, at least a couple of years), but that never “pinged” on my radar before. For example, I just ran across this video of a Badminton Playing Robot.  
Badminton is an interesting game. I used to play with my chum Alvin. He would play in a style he called, “the old man’s game,” which basically involved him standing in the center of his side of the court hitting the shuttlecock to the four corners of my side, with me frantically scampering around trying to keep up. It was as much as I could to the return the shuttlecock to Alvin’s side of the court, where it invariably found him relaxing in the center of the court. To be honest, I was the only one getting any exercise. At the end of our games, I ended up collapsed on the floor exhausted, while Alvin barely broke a sweat. The badminton playing robot is surprisingly minimalist in nature and quite clever. If you look closely at the various videos on YouTube, some incarnations of the robot seem to have only a single racket, while others appear to show dual rackets – one swinging in the horizontal plane and one capable (although I’ve not seen it in action) of swinging in the vertical plane. Most of these videos appear to originate circa 2016, which means the robot is probably sensing only the position of the shuttlecock. Also, the human players seem to be restraining themselves to relatively basic shots, as opposed to mixing things up with their fastest shots or lightly tapping the shuttlecock just over the net, for example. However, things are moving at a fast pace in the sensor and robotic worlds, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a more advanced version of this little rascal handling some much trickier shots in the not-so-distant future. I wonder how long it will be before this robot is equipped with machine vision and artificial intelligence. As well as sensing the shuttlecock, the robot could observe its opponent and perhaps use body language and other “tells” to anticipate trick shots. On the other hand, I have no idea what such a robot would make of the second item in this video of amazing badminton shots.  
I still can’t believe what I just saw in this second video. Given a sufficiently advanced AI-enabled badminton playing robot, I can imagine it freezing up saying “what the heck just happened?” to itself. The problem with YouTube is that it’s hard to stop. For example, I just saw this video of a humanoid robot arm playing badminton. I can’t say why – I know the arm isn’t intelligent – but I still found this video to be a tad disquieting.  
How about you? What do you think? Are badminton and ping pong just the low-hanging fruit of racket-based games? Can we expect to see tennis-playing robots in the not-so-distant future. If so, how long do you think it will be before robots can beat humans at these sorts of sports?

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Charles Pfeil

Being a golfer 45 years, I have watched technology continue to be applied to the game. The main focus has been to improve the ball and clubs with new materials with the goal of making the ball go further with more control. The golf federations have placed limits on certain aspects of club, such as a maximum Moment of Inertia – which for clubs it translates into how forgiving the clubface is when the ball is struck off-center.

The USGA has very specific rules for clubs and balls with the desire to prevent someone using clubs with exceptional technology that give them a significant advantage over other players. The USGA desire is to maintain control over the game and gradually allow technology to influence it. In essence, applying new technology has been good news and bad news. Good news for club and ball manufacturers because every year they create the next minor (often minuscule) advancement and convince golfers to buy the new version. Bad news for the owners of golf courses though. A 7200 yard course used to be just fine for pros, but now they have to extend the length of holes another 300 or more yards.

Club and ball tests are all now done with robots. Check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b86Vu79RQ-s

So where will it end? Nissan recently developed a golf ball that when putted, will automatically go in the hole. The did this to demonstrate guiding technology for their self-driving cars. Here is a cute video of a 4-year old who can’t miss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWtoDRsWgkk

Eventually there will be robot golf tournaments to demonstrate technology and the goal will be to have a perfect score of 18. So far the closest any human pro golfer has come to that is Jim Furyk who shot a 58 in 2016, although Kim Jong Il, former leader of North Korea, reportedly holds the record at a Pyongyang course with a score of 34, with 5 hole-in-ones.

Charles Pfeil

Now the real Charles Pfeil is here…

Charles Pfeil

Thanks, that means a lot to me.

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