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

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

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.


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.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Why Time Is on Our Side in the Fight Against Ebola

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

Catacombs Where You Can Stroll Down Hallways Lined With Corpses

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 1 2014 4:55 PM Blood Before Bud? Must a gentleman’s brother always be the best man at his wedding?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?