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Pingpong-playing robots debut

Zhejiang University

Humanoid robots that play ping pong using sophisticated technology may one day improve the ability of robots to perform helpful chores around the house before goofing off in the basement.

Robots are already taking away jobs at factories. Now, it appears, they're ready to rule the table tennis court, too. 

Two pingpong-playing humanoid robots named Wu and Kong debuted earlier this month at Zhejiang University in China where they showed off their skills in front of engineers and journalists.


The twin 5 foot, 3 inch, 121 pound robots have 30 individually-powered joints, giving them an impressive range of motion. Each arm, for example, can move seven directions, according to the university's description.

Key to their ability to serve and return balls with forehands, backhands, and stoic focus are eye-mounted cameras that predict the path of the ball so the robot get can ready for the next shot.

Each camera captures 120 images per second, which are transferred to the robots' processors that calculate the balls' position, speed, angle, landing position and path, the Xinhuanet news agency reports.

It takes 50 to 100 milliseconds for the robots to respond and their ability to predict the balls' landing position has a margin of error of just less than an inch.

As shown in this video, the robots can play with each other as well as humans. However, the robots lack the ability to curve, shank, or slice the ball, noted Zhang Yfeng, one of the designers.

The team hopes to improve the table tennis ability of the robots, though the game isn't the ultimate goal. Instead, they hope to transfer the technology next-gen helper robots, such as those envisioned for elder care.

But plop one of these pingpong-playing robots in the basement of a fraternity house along with the beer tossing fridge created a few years ago at Duke and some stressed out college students would likely find reason to smile.

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John Roachis a contributing writer for msnbc.com.

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