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Video of robot playing pingpong champ points to future

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Robotics are advancing quickly enough to play pingpong if a few online videos are to be believed. Which they probably are not.

But even though the videos may not be accounts of actual man-versus-machine matches, they do show the current state of what software can do with graphics and what smart machines will be capable of in the not-to-distant future.

The first, and best online video of a tennis table match between a human champion and a robot pits German pingpong champion Timo Boll against the KUKA Agilus robotic arm. The contest is fast and furious and was to highlight the "inherent speed, precision and flexibility" of the robot.

The video description, however, is careful to say it is "a realistic vision of what robots can be capable of in the future."

This near-future capability of robots shows how many jobs could be taken over by smart machines.

Another recent YouTube video, titled “Mann gegen Maschine"(Man versus Machine), by Ulf Hoffmann shows a decidedly less advanced robot arm moving just as fast and just as capably. Unlike the KUKA robot video, there are no obvious clues in the video description that it was faked. Close examination, however, by people online point out why they think it is computer-generated animation. As one commenter on Hackaday wrote, "Fake. Fake. Fake."

Many news outlets, such as New York Daily News, reported the pingpong videos enthusiastically.

Fast Company described the KUKA video this way: "In an epic battle of man-versus-machine pingpong, man ultimately prevails, but the showdown highlights advances in developing human-like qualities in robots."

Rich McCormick at The Verge says: "A match like this (KUKA video) could've been an intriguing window into future questions of sportsmanship and competitive entertainment; as it is, it's nothing more than a glorified commercial."

Even the KUKA “making of” video acts as if it was a real match — although the video clips show the human, Timon Boll, falling onto mats on the floor and having a camera crew hanging over the table. Not exactly a real match.

Pingpong computer-generated competitions are not new.

The movie "Forrest Gump" featured Tom Hanks playing pingpong using a computer-generated image. A video from 2008 showed what looked like an old video of martial artist Bruce Lee dominating a pingpong game using nunchakus instead of a paddle.

Matt Walks at Digital First Media writes about the KUKA robot video: "Regardless of whether the whole video is a public relations stunt, it's incredible to see a robot move with this kind of speed and agility. ... When the robot overlords finally make humanity their slaves, remember this moment."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

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