Science fiction has always imagined robots as a regular and reliable servant to man. You would have read about robots that help us with our daily chores, clean up our streets, assemble machines, assist us in driving our cars safely, and perform tasks that are highly risk for a human being.
The first programmable robot, Unimate, lifted hot pieces of metal and stacked them: a highly risky venture for a common man or woman.
Willow Garage, a robotics research lab, has broken away from the stereotypical servile robot and developed a machine intelligence that could be the ultimate pool-playing companion for a human being. William Garage has named their robot PR2.
The PR2 is definitely not a piece of artificial intelligence that has an aesthetic appeal. Its head is shaped like an instant-photo Polaroid camera. The arms of the robot resemble the arms of an assembly unit. The base of the PR2, used to power the robot, looks like the base of a vacuum cleaner that your grandma used in her heyday. Add to this a mixture of white and grey color tones and you have a drab looking structure. But the PR2 is not designed to win any beauty contests. The robot is designed to play pool and it manages to do that admirably.
Pool playing projects in the past relied on overhead cameras to calculate moves and execute them. This was an unfair advantage, as we do not play pool looking at overhead cameras.
William Garage’s pool playing robot relies on standard rules of pool: shooting the cue ball from where it lies on the table, and having the same vantage point as a human player would.
PR2 has a high-resolution camera with a color ball tracker that helps the robot to differentiate the balls and locate them on a pool table. In order to hit the cue ball, the team at William Garage created an innovative bridge and grip to allow the robot to hold a pool-stick and generate power through its wrist.
The bridge is attached to the left arm of the robot, while the right arm grips the pool stick. It took a week for the team to teach the PR2 how to play pool and pocket balls. The PR2 uses open source software to plan and execute shots.
PR2 represents the next generation of man made machines that will not only do things for us, but will be able to do things with us as well.