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Japan is building a robot that can play baseball

A series of technologies developed by a robot lab in Japan are all going towards the creation of a humanoid baseball-bot.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

A baseball player needs to be able to do quite a few things: throwing the ball, batting, fielding, even running really fast. A human can do all of these things, because we're pretty great, but a robot? Well, getting a robot to do all of these things would be a little more tricky.

However, that's exactly the work of the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. Over the last several years, a team of researchers has been working on perfecting a range of separate robots, each able to perform individual tasks -- with the end goal of combining them into a single, humanoid robot that can play baseball.

"We have been developing robotic systems that individually achieve fundamental actions of baseball, such as throwing, tracking of the ball, batting, running, and catching," the team wrote on its website. "We achieved these tasks by controlling high-speed robots based on real-time visual feedback from high-speed cameras."

Each robotic system completes one task. A throwing robot uses fingers similar to how humans use them to throw a ball with precision, throwing into the strike zone with an accuracy of 90 percent. A tracking system uses pan and tilt axes to achieve a wide field of view, using high-speed actuators and high-speed visual feedback to track a target moving at high velocity. The batting robot uses high-speed stereo vision to track the ball, adjusting to its position every 1ms to calculate the ball's trajectory and hit it from anywhere in the strike zone. The bipedal running robot uses high-speed visual feedback to note the position of the robot and adjust its balance in real-time. Finally, the two catching robots use a hand that can open and close at a rate of 10 times per second, measuring the balls flight using high-speed tracking.

The team has uploaded a video to YouTube, showing these robots in action -- compared with players at the University of Tokyo Baseball Club, clearly showing the robots' advantages. However, while a robotic baseball game might be more accurate, we suspect it would be a bit more choreographed -- and that there would still be a lot of room for a human match.

Or perhaps we'd see the baseball robots mingled with humans -- and then we'd get to see just how well robots can adjust to the disordered, non-mechanical element.

First, however, the team at the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory needs to figure out how to put their robot technologies together. As impressive as they are individually, combining them in a humanoid form factor will pose quite the challenge.

(Via IEEE Spectrum)