Japanese Robots Playing Their Ways into Major League Baseball?



Teams at the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory of the University of Tokyo have been dedicated themselves to the research and development of high-speed robots movement sensor control as well as real-time visual feedback system.  


Recently, according to the Laboratory’s official website and a just released demo video, they have achieved five technical goals and key tasks with their robots that make a future all-robots baseball team seem quite possible: 




The robotic arm and fingers developed by the Lab are able to mimic human throwing practices based on analyses of the kinetic chain.  The robot can now easily throw a ball into the strike zone with a success rate of 90%.



The high-speed actuators, rotating cameras and visual feedback system allow the robot’s “gaze" to track a fast-moving target.




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The robotic arm can make a perfect hit anywhere in the strike zone by responding to the movements of the ball every millisecond (1/1,000 of a second), while controlling the strike direction.  We can see successful batting tests both between two robotic arms (one pitcher and one hitter) as well as between a human pitcher and a robot hitter.


Most interestingly, the Lab points out that this task was completed entirely with the robotic arm’s high-speed active vision, without the need for prediction or learning functions.




Again, thanks to light-weight actuators and high-speed visual feedback, the biped robot runner of the Lab’s ACHIRES (Actively Coordinated High-speed Image-processing Running Experiment System) Project can recognize and minutely adjust its forward-leaning posture while running on a fast-moving conveyer belt.  




A robotic arm developed by the Lab can open and close its metal fingers 10 times a second in response to the visual feedback, and thus able to catch a flying ball with precision.




Therefore, once "integrating these abilities into one robot,” as they said on the official website, you can actually get a robot playing pitch perfect baseball!




However, this brings forth an interesting question: if we ever have a baseball team full of perfect robot players, without those tricky human elements of risks, chances, haphazard emotions, strong personalities, failing physique, heartbreaking losses and injuries, psychological warfare versus head-butting strategies, do people still want to go see the games at all?


Still, an online commenter mentioned that these incredible baseball-playing robots will prove invaluable in future human players’ training camps and practice regimens, which could be a potential application and indeed merits further exploration.



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