Robots can be really fast and accurate when it comes to performing repetitive tasks, but what about if you literally throw them a curve ball? A group of researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have been trying to determine exactly that, by teaching a robotic arm how to catch stuff.
To teach their robotic arm how to play catch, the researchers have been training it by literally moving it manually into the right position to make a perfect grab. With repeated training, the arm learns exactly how it needs to move to catch something with its three fingers and one opposing thumb.
Aude Billard of the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL says that this method of "programming by observation" makes the robot much faster than if they tried to write regular code that explained how to catch something. Even with a speedy robot, by the time it could process a pile of data about speed and trajectory, the thrown item would already be on the floor.
Several cameras allow the arm to determine the object's trajectory, but the key difference with a human is that once it has learned the proper moves, its 0.002 second reaction time lets it move faster than Serena Williams returning a serve or Derek Jeter snagging a line drive.
Billard says that in addition to the obvious sports roles, the arm could be useful as a safety device in the workplace, catching both people and objects that fall before they can hit the ground.
Source: dvice.comAdded: 14 May 2014