We've documented previously the eventual robot take over of our beloved sport. From desktop-sized prototypes to ones that can stand to machines that can fire 110 mph slap shots, soon the NHL will be only made up of cyborgs ... and Zdeno Chara.
But these robots aren't just stopping at regular old puck-and-stick hockey. No, they are now moving in to dominate air hockey territory.
Researchers at Japan's Chiba University's Namiki Lab have created a robot capable of destroying you in air hockey. Not just because it plays good defense, but because it's smart and changes its style of play depending on what your strategy is.
From IEEE Spectrum:
The robot is tracking the game at an insanely fast rate of 500 frames per second. Which means that, from the robot's point of view, its human opponent is moving at a laughably slow pace. It's like the robot is playing the game in a Matrix-style bullet-time frame.
To keep the game entertaining for human players, the researchers programmed the robot with a three-layer control system. The first layer is responsible for basic motion control at the hardware level. A second layer decides its short-term strategy—whether it should hit the puck, defend the goal, or stay still—to choose which motion can effectively counter the incoming trajectory of the puck. The third layer determines the machine's long-term strategy, and this is where things get interesting.
Basically, 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.
The robot is not only playing against you, it's reading your actions. We are so boned.
So, if you're at the local arcade or your buddy's basement talking trash about your air hockey skills, keep an eye out for any robots in the area. Your undefeated streak may be coming to a quick end.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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