Harmony between people and technology

Soon after the development of the ping-pong robot began, Omron engineers were able to make the robot move the paddle based on the calculations of the sensor and controller.

But no matter how many times it tried, the robot kept missing the ball. It couldn’t even return the ball to the opponent. If a human player is playing with another human player, it is rather easy to maintain a ping-pong rally. However, an extremely high level of technology is required if a rally is to be maintained between a human player and a machine.

The ball a player hits is first detected by the sensor, which then calculates how it should be returned. The controller then controls the robot so as to hit the ball according to the calculated data. This control is extremely precise, with a resolution of 1/1,000 of a second.

Yoshiya Shibata, an engineer in charge of development, recalls that the most difficult part was determining the cause of the robot missing the ball.

"We could not determine whether the problem was in the calculation of the ball hitting position or in the deviation of time from which a hitting command was given. There was also a time lag between the command and the robot’s movement. In addition to these conditions, the ball kept moving all the time. Identifying the cause of the problem in the world of 1/1,000 of a second precision was extremely challenging."