Timo Boll of Germany is currently the eighth-ranked table tennis player on the planet. KR Agilus is a super-fast robot arm thing made by a company called Kuka. Kuka is opening up a new plant in China in March, and to celebrate the opening, they say they're going to have Boll play Agilus in ping-pong:
Word? Agilus is indeed extremely fast and skilled at "fine motor" tasks like sorting small objects very quickly. A similar-looking robot can play snooker. A robot can bounce a ping-pong ball vertically on a paddle. The closest precedent I can find is this friendly-looking humanoid, which can hold a long rally against its counterpart and return both forehand and backhand shots of varying speeds from a person:
And that's from over two years ago. Even with all that, it's hard to imagine Agilus even coming close to matching the skill and unpredictability of one of the world's best human opponents, assuming Boll is really playing to win. I am intrigued, but I can't quite buy it.
I guess we have to check this all out on March 11 to see what goes down? I guess that's the point?
Update: Here is the actual "match." It is a tremendous disappointment and I feel like a dingus for ever getting my hopes up:
The "match" is just a cut-up, exceedingly polished montage of isolated shots edited together to form a cinematic human comeback story. What a waste. We got nary a glimpse of the real thing. Boll would have dominated, but based on the look of this robot and the videos above, there's reason to believe the machine could at least return a couple shots and make it interesting. Or not. Either way, a real, uncut video or anything to demonstrate how this match-up actually went would have been exciting. I don't think anyone would pass judgment or doubt the robot's ability to manufacture stuff because it's not actually any good at ping-pong. There's no need to hide. YouTube commenters are just as displeased as I am:
Not cool, robot-making people. I will, however, give you credit for the shot of Boll consoling the sad robot:
And Boll preparing to face A ROBOT QUINTET:
That was funny. The rest of this is stupid and a huge waste of time. Harrumph.