A Human Faces a Robot in the Most Dramatic Game of Ping-Pong Ever

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 11 2014 12:46 PM

A Human Faces a Robot in the Most Dramatic Game of Ping-Pong Ever

pingpong
The KUKA robot (left) and Timo Boll (right) face off.

Image from KUKA.

Jeopardy! had Watson and chess had Deep Blue, so it was time for ping-pong to face a formidable opponent in technological form. The incredibly quick KUKA robot, normally used in manufacturing, squared off against a top ping-pong player—and performed really well.

Timo Boll is currently ranked eighth in the world for table tennis, but has held the No. 1 spot. For the opening of KUKA's new Shanghai robotics factory, he came on to endorse KUKA and play the robot in ping-pong. According to the (incredibly overproduced) video, it was a super-intense match. Boll had to play hard to beat the KUKA 11-9 in a match for the ages. Or at least it looks like it in the video—who knows how much of that was planned.

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Though the music and the lighting are slightly over the top, it's still pretty awesome to watch a robot and a human play a professional-level game of table tennis and make it look natural. KUKA's video is definitely absurdist, but also self-deprecating in a cool way. At the end the screen reads, “Not the best at table tennis, but probably the best in robotics.” Solid humble brag.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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