Namiki Lab air hockey robot can play with strategy (w/ Video)

Jun 15, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog

( —Robots playing air hockey can play strategically as a result of work by researchers in Japan at Chiba University's Namiki Lab. The system they constructed consists of an air-hockey table, a Barrett four-axis robotic arm, two high-speed cameras, and an external PC. This is not the first air hockey playing robot. Back in 2008, for one, there was the Nuvation Air Hockey robot that grabbed admirers. This was an industrial robot equipped with an optical sensor programmed to follow and react to a moving object. The differentiator with the Namiki Lab robot is that this one is able to strategize playing against its human opponent. Professor Akio Namiki and his group have designed a robot that can shift its strategy based on the opponent's playing style. The robot isn't just playing but is making its plays specifically against the opponent in any one game.

The researchers have written that their motive in developing the air hockey system was "to develop the technology of high-speed human interactive robot in which the robot reads the opponent's intention and moves in response to the opponent's motion and human purpose expectation."

The research focus of Prof. Namiki generally is on the , grasping, dynamic manipulation, visual feedback control, sensor fusion, and sensory-motor fusion. The report in IEEE Spectrum describes how the university researchers programmed the robot with a three-layer control system. Layer number one takes care of motion control at the hardware level. A second layer decides if the robot should hit the puck, defend the goal, or stay still. The robot chooses the right move to counter the incoming trajectory of the puck. The third layer deal with a longer-term strategy.

"The robot observes the speed and position of the player's paddle in relation to the puck. This data can be described by what is known as a Motion Pattern Histogram (MPH). The robot uses this data to estimate whether its opponent is playing aggressively or defensively. Over the course of a game, the robot can detect these MPHs in real-time and compare them with reference patterns to help it figure out what you're doing."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

According to the team, their experiments showed that the robot was able to figure out playing behaviors. The Chiba researchers, along with Professor Namiki, are Sakyo Matsushita, Takahiro Ozeki, and Kenzo Nonami. They are authors of "Hierarchical Processing Architecture for an Air-Hockey System." They presented this paper last month at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Germany.

Explore further: Robots learn to take a proper handoff by following digitized human examples

More information: Project site:

via IEEE Spectrum

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User comments : 4

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5 / 5 (1) Jun 15, 2013
Air hockey is kind of a dull game. Isn't the technology advanced enough to tackle a more complex game, like tennis table?
1 / 5 (4) Jun 15, 2013
Sure. But the mechanics for such would be much more expensive. And the programming would take more time. This is a university doing basic robotics research, and that often means doing simple things but much analyzing and thinking. What they can learn here, is equally applicable to table tennis. When some day a private company wants to build a ping-pong robot, they can use the results from this research here.
1 / 5 (4) Jun 16, 2013
Four-axis robotic arm is enough for tennis. I wonder why you needed four-axis robotic arm for this crap.
1 / 5 (5) Jun 16, 2013
Reminds me of an old scifi short story.

The first robot baseball pitcher was built, and could throw 120 mph fast balls and huge sweeping curve balls with perfect precision, and could pitch every day, including back-to-back double headers. It goes through an entire season with a 162-0 record, an ERA of 0.00, all perfect games with 27 strikeouts, and no batter even foul tips the ball. So the rest of the league protests that it should be banned because it's not human, and the proof is it has no heart.

So the inventor goes back to the drawing board, and figures out how to put a human heart into the robot. The next season, it throws nothing but slow gopher balls down the batter's wheelhouse for home runs and loses every game. Seems now that it had a heart, it couldn't bear to make the batters feel bad.

It could easily be seen as an apt metaphor for today's ideological confrontation, but I'll leave that for another day.

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