Robot Eyes Track Ping Pong Balls

This 1,000-frames-per-second camera always keeps its eye on the ball

1 min read
Robot Eyes Track Ping Pong Balls

ishikawa super fast camera robot

Professor Masatoshi Ishikawa from the University of Tokyo writes in to point us to their latest video. It shows their 1,000-frames-per-second camera using a pan-tilt system to track a ping pong ball. The device is so fast it can always keep the ball in the center of the frame. 

Possible applications include tracking balls or players on sports broadcasts and recording detailed dynamics of a flying bird of fast moving vehicles.

And how do they do it? The camera uses a custom vision chip that monitors what pixels are changing, and by doing that one thousand times per second it can keep track of fast moving objects (bouncing balls, flipping pages, falling eggs...).

Professor Ishikawa says they made the video because their earlier clip showing a robot hand that plays (and always wins at) rock-paper-scissors (3 million views on youtube) "lacked enough technical details" and wasn't satisfying for robotics researchers. With the video above (and check out their web page too) they hope to provide more background on their technology. No problem, Professor Ishikawa, just keep making more videos!

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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
LightGreen

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

"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.

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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