Foosball champs on campuses everywhere are about to meet their match. Students from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have created a robot table-football (better known as foosball) player that can kick the ball faster than most humans can react. The robot will prove even more formidable as researchers continue to improve its accuracy and its ability to strategize.
Competing against a perfect opponent makes the idea of robots quite appealing. Historically, chess has embraced computer opponents that can compete with the best grandmasters in the world. Computers such as Deep Blue, developed by IBM, and Deep Fritz could search for thousands of positions within a match. But robots have to do much more than compute possible outcomes. In the world of robotics, coordination is as important as computation, and with additional research and development, the students hope their creation will soon think, and act, faster than a human.
The robot foosball player can already kick the ball across the table and into the goal before players can even set up their defense. The robot is powered by two computers and one of its levers can send the ball toward its opponent at a speed of six meters (20 feet) a second. The computers work together with a camera that films the game, providing one computer the location of the ball, which signals the other computer to trigger the lever.
The foosball robot is currently an offense-only machine, but the students are working on fixing its defensive deficiencies. The robot was a way to help students learn more about the process and work required for such a project, from building the necessary components to creating programming algorithms. According to Christophe Salzmann, a research associate at EPFL, the foosball robot will be an ongoing project involving future students, ultimately creating an unbeatable opponent.
In the future, the robot's two computers may be consolidated into one that will let the robot analyze ball location and react to the ball's trajectory. Salzmann said in a statement, “It could simultaneously analyze the location of all players and the exact trajectory of the ball after it ricocheted off the edges. All that remains is to develop a strategy.” Once the robot is able to formulate a strategy, the team hopes to set up games between robots.
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A video of the foosball robot in action can be viewed below.