Swish! Toyota’s basketball bot earns a Guinness record with 2,020 perfect throws

First the robots came for our jobs. Now they’re after our sporting achievements, too!

At least, that’s our takeaway from the news that a humanoid robot built by Toyota (yes, the car company!) just picked up a Guinness World Record for its impressive basketball shooting abilities. The robot, known as CUE, won its record by sinking 2,020 free throws in a row without ever missing a shot. The number was selected to commemorate the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games which will be held in Tokyo.

The CUE project dates back to 2017, when Toyota engineers began developing it in their downtime. The first robot was finished in March 2018. The inspiration came from a popular Japanese manga and anime basketball series called Slam Dunk. In the series, the main character practices shooting 20,000 times to up his skill levels. Similarly, the robot’s A.I. algorithms were honed using plenty of trial and error.

Today, what started as a fun side project has spawned multiple iterations of basketball-shooting robots (the record-winner is CUE3). It carries out its picture-perfect throws from the center circle by first computing a 3D image of the basket and its relative distance using vision and radar, and then utilizing some smart algorithms to work out how to transform this data into instructions for its arm, knee and torso motors and sensors. This allows it to calculate the perfect angle and propulsion for each throw. Depending on its distance from the basket, CUE3 can dynamically adjust its throw.

“It started as a sort of company’s club activity,” said Tomohiro Nomi, project leader for the robot project, in a video appearing on the official Guinness World Record YouTube channel. “Times are changing, the automobile industry is changing. So, CUE’s name came from the idea of prompting change — the cue for something new.”

As impressive as CUE undoubtedly is, however, it won’t be able to challenge human players in a full game of basketball just yet. That’s because it is only capable of carrying out free throws and is unable to move autonomously (or, really, at all) or carry out the other necessary skills to ball. But don’t count that out. While focused on a different sport, the Japanese developers behind the RoboCup soccer challenge have stated their ambition to build a team of autonomous robot players good enough to beat a team of professional human players by 2050.

Such a goal may seem impossible with today’s technology — but, then again, so did the idea of a perfect basketball-shooting bot just a few short years ago!

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