As we steadily march toward our own obsolescence by designing machines that are better than us at everything from surgery to driving Uber taxis, humans have had to take solace in the fact that, while the robo-apocalypse may be immanent, at least our robotic overlords would never be able to beat us at foosball.
This robotic Frédéric Collignon (how’s that for a reference) was designed by a team of graduate students at Switzerland’s École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and has so far been able to consistently beat its human opponents. The robot has been under development for years at the EPFL’s Automatic Control Lab, but it was recently taken to the next level thanks to new ‘arms’ powered by industrial manufacturing motors and super high speed cameras.
Under the foosball table a camera is tracking the movement of the ball across the table by taking 300 pictures per second. This information is then relayed to a computer for processing before commands are relayed to the motorized arms, which are precise to less than a millimeter and can generate up to 9g of acceleration.
While this certainly makes for a formidable opponent, the students who developed the machine aren’t totally satisfied.
“At this stage, the system is like a bodybuilder with a tiny brain,” said Christophe Salzmann, the EPFL scientist overseeing the project. “But in addition to being strong, we want the robot to be able to fake out the opponent, steer clear of the opponent, and predict the ball’s path and the opponent’s position.”
To make this happen the researchers will be incorporating lasers that can read an opponent’s handle positions into the machine. In the meantime, they hope to develop software that will allow two robotic foosball players to square off against one another.