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German Robot Plays Pool, Throws Down Robot Pool Gauntlet

With several different human-sized robots now capable of playing pool on real tables, a confrontation seems inevitable

1 min read
German Robot Plays Pool, Throws Down Robot Pool Gauntlet

Well, it's inevitable now. RoboGames obviously needs to add a new event: robot pool. Willow Garage got their PR2 sinking balls as part of a week-long hackathon, and at ICRA, the Germans answered back with a similarly-sized dual arm robot able to pocket five balls in a row:

Thomas Nierhoff, a masters student at Technische Universität München (TUM), used a human-sized mobile robot with dual 7-DOF arms that's able to manipulate a pool cue similarly to how a human does. A camera above the table tracked the positions of the balls and helped the robot plan its shots, separating each into various difficulty thresholds to help the bot decide which it should take. It managed to nail most of the easier shots about 80% of the time, which isn't too shabby, and seems like it would probably make it competitive with the PR2.

It's a shame, then, that Germany is such a long way from California. But wait! It just so happens that there are several PR2s in Germany. And it also just so happens that one of them is right there at TUM, albeit in a different lab. Personally, I don't see how it would be possible not to set up a friendly little game, and if Rosie wants to get involved too, I'm all for that. Place your bets in the comments!

This robot was presented at ICRA in a paper entitled "Playing Pool with a Dual-Armed Robot" by Thomas Nierhoff, Omiros Kourakos, and Sandra Hirche, all with the Institute of Automatic Control Engineering at TUM.

[ TUM ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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