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Table tennis-playing robot pingpongs its way into the record books

Why it matters to you

It's yet another example of how engineers are creating ever-more deft and skillful robots.

Once unable to “even return a Ping-Pong ball” but now officially recognized by Guinness World Records for being the “first robot table tennis tutor,” Omron’s imposing bat-holding contraption has evidently come a long way over the last few years.

Awarded for its “unique technological intelligence and educational capabilities,” the unique robot was developed not only to advance the Japanese company’s sensor and control technology, but also to harmonize humans and robots by using it to teach table tennis to human players.

As we can see from the video, Omron’s latest version of its robot is a whiz with the bat, able to comfortably keep a rally going with its human opponent.

Project lead Taku Oya explains that the robot functions using two vision sensors and one motion sensor. “[The] vision sensors identify the movement of the ball, and the motion sensor identifies the movement of the opponent. It also uses a controller that can analyze speed at one thousand times a second. By using these different sensors, it’s able to judge the skill level of the player.”

A fun feature that helped the setup earn its “tutor” label is the LED screen on the table’s net that shows messages of encouragement between points, while also counting the number of shots in a rally.

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“At the moment it is a human who teaches a robot how to behave or teach,” Oya said. “But in the next 20 years it may be possible that a robot teaches a robot, or a robot develops a robot.” Wait … wouldn’t that be one backhand smash away from the robot apocalypse?

If Omron’s commanding-looking robot does somehow end up building an army to take over the world, guess you could try to distract them with a few games of Ping-Pong while the family packs the car. Probably best you let it win.