To demonstrate the latest advances in high-speed industrial robot technology, researchers at the University of Tokyo have pitted a baseball-pitching robotic arm against a mechanical batter with a near-perfect swing.
The robot pitcher consists of a high-speed, three-fingered hand (developed by professor Masatoshi Ishikawa and his team from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology) mounted on a mechanical arm (developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). With superb control of nimble fingers that can open and close at a rate of up to 10 times per second, the robot can release the ball with perfect timing. Precise coordination between the fingers, hand and arm allow the robot pitcher to hit the strike zone 90% of the time.
The robot batter is an upgraded version of a machine that Ishikawa's team developed in 2003.
In the demonstration -- which was designed to showcase the speed at which multiple high-speed industrial robots can respond to external circumstances and perform activities together -- the researchers placed the robot pitcher 3.5 meters (11 ft) away from the mechanical batter. The pitcher's 40-kph (25-mph) sidearm throws posed little challenge to the batter, whose 1000-frame-per-second camera eyes allow it to see the ball in super slow motion as it approaches. The robot batter has a near-perfect batting average when swinging at pitches in the strike zone.
To make future contests more interesting, the researchers plan to increase the robot pitcher's throwing speed to 150 kph (93 mph) and teach it to throw breaking balls and changeups. In addition, they plan to train the robot batter to repeatedly hit balls to the same target.