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This Robotic Arm is Better Than Most People at Catching Things

by Brandon Russell | May 25, 2014May 25, 2014 9:00 am PDT

Have nobody to play catch with? This robotic arm, developed by EPFL researchers, is probably more coordinated and athletic than most people. Just look at it in action; it catches everything, from a tennis racket to a rolled up magazine, without breaking a sweat. Notice how it even casually moves to the side and catches the object being tossed to it, very human-like. I wonder if, once the technology is fine-tuned, the position of baseball catcher will be threatened in the future.

According to researchers, the arm is essentially taught how to predict moving objects, and then how to grasp these objects once they’re flying through the air. By using a method called “programming by demonstration,” researchers don’t have to explicitly specify a task or an object’s path, thus allowing the arm to dynamically adapt and catch objects in its range. In the video, two of the project’s researchers are shown teaching the arm how to perform a task, giving it enough data to perform on its own.

Of course, the arm wouldn’t be able to perform these feats without complex software and the help of motion-sensing cameras. The objects themselves also have little sensors attached to them, allowing the arm to “see” what to catch. It’s a pretty complicated setup, but it’s still pretty incredible that these researchers have managed to create an arm that’s capable of learning how to catch. Researchers say the cat-like reflexes can be applied to protect people in factories, or even in autonomous vehicles. I’d say we start up a whole sports team of just robotic arms.

EPFL (YouTube) Gizmodo

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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