If you’re looking for a vaguely frightening realization of just how good robots are getting at activities that require a high degree of optical precisions and fine motor control, than the video above has exactly what you need. In a promotional short film created by robotics company KUKA (via Slate), we see a manufacturing robot take on ping pong champion Timo Boll, with surprising results.
Spoiler alert: The KUKA KR AGILUS still loses to its human opponent, but the frankly chilling speed, accuracy and versatility of the robot makes it a tough-won match of 11 to 9 in favor of Boll. Or, sort of, since in actual fact this wasn’t a real match but an elaborate film production not unlike a Hollywood movie.
The video above details the production process, which reveals that the speed of the interaction between the human and robot player is real, as well as its ability to repeatedly hit a desired spot within a millimeter of accuracy. The German company isn’t really trying to replace human ping pong players with robots, of course, but promote its new robotics factory in China, which is having its official grand opening today, so a little artistic license can be forgiven.
In the end KUKA isn’t talking specifics about how much is real and how much is Hollywood movie magic, but you can bet Boll would still dominate in a fair match. Still, judging by cast, crew and programmer comments in that making of video, the robot can at least still field and return shots, which is impressive enough.