By 2011, I expected a lot out of my future as a child. I expected a stable economy, deep space exploration, contact with extraterrestrial aliens, and flying cars. Unfortunately, none of those beloved and adolescent dreams have become a reality. There is no Enterprise scouting the galaxies and where we’re going we still in fact do need roads. The moment these possibilities become a reality will be met with great disappointment because it did not come sooner. There is only one glimmering glint of hope dazzling in this dark future. That sparkle is the birth of the Ping Pong paddle wielding robot from the University of Washington.
It isn’t a gigantic Japanese mech rising up from the Pacific waters but it is a robot that has a greater reaction time than I will ever possess. Using optimal control algorithms – I’m not going to pretend I know what that means – this little swaying ping pong terminator can keep a steady beat going with a single ping pong ball. It jogs back and forth effortlessly while keeping track of the constantly moving ping pong ball. If that isn’t amazing enough, it still manages to hold its own against two ping pong balls in motion. It doesn’t even require both balls to be dropped simultaneously. It somehow adapts to a given situation whenever the second ball is introduced.
The precision of this dynamo brings a couple of ideas into play. What if people everywhere decided that using a Newton’s Cradle on their desk wasn’t flashy enough? What if everyone’s office had one these ping pong robots sitting in a corner instead? Not only will visitors think the invention is awesome, but it will also help establish a new found respect. Someone get on the road to marketing these things! This needs to go global!