The furry creature above? No, it's not Paro, the Japanese therapeutic robot seal. This hoop-shooting mechatronic harp seal is a creation of Taiwanese roboticists at the Industrial Technology Research Institute. The thing is not really a fully-actuated robotic animal; it's more of a manipulator arm disguised as a stuffed plush seal, with its multi-fingered gripper freakishly sticking out of the creature's mouth, for added Uncanny Valley-esque creepiness.
The researchers claim their robot can convert hoops 99 percent of the time, but keep in mind it's shooting a toy basketball at close range (the maximum distance in the experiment was 3 meters). Still, watching this bizarre bot in action is utterly entertaining.
Jwu-Sheng Hu and colleagues described their robot at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, last October, where they presented the paper "A Ball-Throwing Robot with Visual Feedback."
It looks like a simple stunt, but there's a good deal of tech behind it. The robot uses a stereo vision system to compute the position of the hoop in three-dimensional space. Based on that position, an algorithm determines the angle and speed the robot needs to launch the ball to hit the target. After some calibration procedures, the robotic arm does the rest. Watch out, LeBron!
UPDATE: I incorrectly attributed this work to researchers at National Chiao-Tung University. The robot was actually built at Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute. National Chiao-Tung University collaborated in the project.
Image and video: Industrial Technology Research Institute
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. He’s the cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.