An advanced robot developed by Japanese electronics company Omron has recently been certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s first robot table tennis tutor. FORPHEUS (Future Omron Robotics Technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonized Automation with Sinic Theoretics) used machine learning to asses the skills of a human player, adjust its game accordingly and provide tips to help opponents improve their technique.
Unveiled at the Ceatec electronics show in Japan in 2014, FORPHEUS has come a long way in the last three years, especially after developers made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. Originally designed to showcase Omron’s sensor technology, the table tennis-playing robot has now become a Guinness-certified tutor thanks to machine learning. It analyzes data like the human player’s movement, the speed of the ball and the trajectory to determine his opponent’s skill level with around 90% accuracy. FORPHEUS then uses this information to adjust its play style – slow and and easy for beginners, faster and more unpredictable for advanced players.
FORPHEUS is equipped with two vision sensors that identify the movement of the ball, and one motion sensor that monitors the movement of the opponent. A controller analyses the speed of the ball at one thousands times per second, allowing to predict where it is going to land and react accordingly. The AI component can also determine the spot where the return from FORPHEUS will land with an accuracy of withing 5 centimeters, and this is projected on a screen so that the human “students” can prepare and improve their game.
The special net of FORPHEUS’ ping pong table also acts as a digital display, where the human players can see encouraging messages aimed to motivate them, like “Good job!” or “Hang in there!”, but also valuable tips aimed to help them step up their game.
“At the moment it is a human who teaches a robot how to behave or teach,” said FORPHEUS developer Taku Oya. “But in the next 20 years it may be possible that a robot teaches a robot or a robot develops a robot.” That may sound sci-fi, but the idea is in line with what most experts believe will happen as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced.